Thursday 30 January 2014

Haggis, Neeps and Tatties

Last Saturday, the 25th January, was the annual Scottish celebration of the poet and master wordsmith Robert 'Rabbie' Burns. Usually this event passes me and the OH by and we barely make any effort to join in the celebrations. It is a pity really considering the festival itself, whilst being a celebration of a Scottish writer, it mainly revolves around food, namely the noble Haggis.

Now the haggis, has got an interesting reputation, you either love it or you are immediately repulsed by the thought of it, with its use of offal as it's main ingredients. I was once in the latter camp until I tried a bit many years ago now at the Good Food Show and oh was it delicious.

Fast forward to last week and after seeing some lovely posts on blogs I read namely; Belleau Kitchen's Chicken Thighs & Haggis and Janice's at Farmers Girl Kitchen's excellent pie, I was determined to not let it slide by for another year especially as it would get me right in the mood for a trip to Edinburgh in a couple of weeks.

We couldn't attend a couple of Burns Night events that we wanted to at the weekend due to work and a visit to one of our favourite Leeds Supper clubs on the Saturday night.

So on Saturday we had a 'little' toast to Robert Burns in North Bar with an excellent pint of  Pale Ale from the Scottish brewery, Alchemy. We rounded this off with a wee dram of a very peaty Whisky from Adberg Distillery, which the OH practically downed in an effort 'to get it over and done with'.....

...and on Sunday, I cooked my very first haggis and served it up in the traditional way with Neeps (what we call swedes, combined with carrots for colour), Tatties and onion gravy.

A fine way to toast a fine poet if you ask me.

Monday 20 January 2014

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Sticky toffee pudding has got to be one of the finest puddings known to humankind. Dark, chewy cake, drenched in sticky toffee sauce and lightened with a splash of cream, it's a pudding that has no qualms about it's 'unhealthiness' and as such rewards you with a bowl of pure joy.

Now you may think that it is as British as it comes, but the original recipe can be traced to Canada who gave it to a chef from Lancashire called Patrica Martin. A chef from my home county of Cumbria then got hold of the recipe and stuck it firmly on the map by serving it at the Sharrow Bay Hotel. Nowadays the unofficial home of the sticky toffee pudding is Cartmel, where the little village shop makes 2000 of the little beauties every week.

It is essentially a fail safe dessert, it's very rare that somebody around the table will not like it and if they don't like it then there is more for everybody else, win-win in my book. It has made its way on to my Christmas Dinner table and more recently on to the tweet up table of @ewanmitchell who invited a few of us round for a meal, of which I was placed in charge of the pudding.

The recipe I used  is a Nigel Slater recipe but it is relatively unchanged from the classic recipe.

Sticky Toffee Pudding
60g Butter
60g golden caster sugar
2 eggs
150g self raising flour
150g dates, stoned and chopped.
250ml hot water
1tsp bicarb.

Line a 900g loaf tin and preheat the oven to 170C
Place the prepared dates into a bowl and pour of the bicarb and hot water, leave for ten minutes.
Beat the sugar and butter together until fluffy then beat in the eggs, one at a time, until fully combined.
Fold in the flour until combined.bat in the date mixture, the mixture will be very runny.
Pour into the loaf tin and bake for about 40 minutes, a skewer should remove clean when cooked.

Place the butter and sugar into a pan and melt together, stirring continuously.
Once combined, pour in the cream and simmer very gently for 5 minutes.
Pour into a serving jug and serve with cream alongside cut up portions of the cake.


I am submitting this for this months Tea Time Treats Challenge by Karen and Kate of which the theme is eggs. This month the challenge is guest hosted by Jane over at her lovely blog.

Wednesday 15 January 2014

Chicken, Mushroom and Noodle Broth - A Random Recipe

A new year means a new month and with a new month comes many blogger challenges. I have my eye on two this month, Tea Time Treats and of course the usual Random Recipe Challenge from Belleau Kitchen.

The Random Recipe challenge this month is Christmas cookbooks. I got one book for Christmas which was a book about cake decorating, not really appropriate for this month with the cake I currently have to make and decorate taking up a lot of time. So I decided to go for the book I treated myself to over the Christmas period which was Nigel Slater's Eat.

Nigel Slater is not everyone's cup of tea but I like him. His recipes are usually spot on and work every time and they are focused on flavour and not complicated techniques. Eat is no exception, it's a hefty book, with a lovely cloth binding, filled with quick recipes and also suggestions around those recipes all written in an easy going style with no random hard-to-get ingredients. I highly recommend it.

As usual, I consulted the wise sage that is the random number generator to select my recipe which lead me to page 59, the home of a chicken, asparagus and noodle broth.

I am not going to post the recipe as it is in the book, I'm just going to tell you how I did it and what I changed.

Chicken, Courgette and Noodle Broth
Firstly, I seasoned 4 chicken legs with salt and pepper before browning them in oil a deep pan  until golden on all sides. I then sliced up some Chestnut mushrooms (about 4 large) and added them to the pan alongside a clove of thinly sliced garlic. I then added a chicken stock pot and 750ml water and left to simmer for 30 minutes. The recipe then states to add asparagus shavings but having checked out the dire specimens in the supermarket I decided to opt for a courgette which I peeled into thin strips using a vegetable peeler. I added these plus 200g of noodles to the pot. I then removed the chicken, shredded it, discarded the bone and stirred it back into the pan and then served.

The resulting broth was superb. it was akin to having a great big hug in a bowl, defending you from the winter chill. A deep chicken flavour with a undercurrent of garlic, bulked up with meaty chestnut mushrooms and soft noodles, I did feel it lacked just a slight kick of heat and next time I might slice up a mild chilli and add it with the garlic.  It was very simple to make and will easily serve 3 people. Another corker from the Random Recipe challenge.

Sunday 12 January 2014

Sticky Date and Prune Cake

According to some scientist types this weekend is the weekend when those resolutions that you were adamant that you would stick to simply fail, fall or die trying.

Is it any wonder though? It's January, the depths of winter, who really wants to start a new exercise regime or start eating healthily when all you really want to do is watch tely under a duvet on the sofa and eat comfort food.

Well, if you are one of those many people who have told the New Year resolutions where to go then I have the recipe right here for you. It's a reasonable healthy cake which you can eat guilt-free, a term which I personally hate because cake should always be guilt-free. But if you insist on associating unnecessary emotions on an innocent piece of cake then follow the advice of the great Mary Berry: 'have a smaller slice'.

This cake is taken from HRH Delia Smith and her very lovely book: Delia's Cakes and I decided to have a go at it to do something different cake-wise instead of the Great Cake Project 2014 plus I can actually eat this one instead of just decorating it.

It is a cracking cake once cooked and cooled. It is dark, it is dense, it is sticky, it a word... glorious. It's a perfect winter cake and after reading this you definitely go and make it.

Sticky Date and Prune cake
175g dates, stoned and chopped
125g ready-to-eat prunes, chopped
75g raisins
75g currants
200g butter
300g condensed milk
220g plain flour
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp Bicarb
1 tbsp marmalade

1 1/2 tbsp marmalade +1/2 tbsp water

Place everything apart from the dry ingredients and marmalade into a sauce pan.
Bring to the boil and simmer for 3 minutes then place into a large mixing bowl to cool for half n hour
Line a 20cm cake tin and preheat the oven to 170C (fan)
Weigh out the flour and sift with the salt and bicarb.
Once the mixture has cooled, stir in the dry ingredients and marmalade into it until fully combined.
Pour into the tin and smooth with the back of a spoon.
Bake for 1 hour and 50 minutes.
Halfway through, check on it, if the top is getting dark, cover with baking paper for the remaining time.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for 5 minutes then turn out on a cooling rack.
Once the cake is cool, heat the marmalade and water in a small saucepan until smooth then brush over the cake to glaze it.

Serve and Enjoy

Thursday 9 January 2014

The Great Cake Project 2014

Well the title may be a bit grander than necessary for these posts but... it is about cake, in 2014 and it is a project. The grand bit...well we will see in a few weeks.

Many moons ago, well September, I wandered along to the local university centre (posh term for college) and signed up for an evening cookery course for this academic year. The course itself is about cake decoration and the module we have been working on for the past few months is decoration using Royal Icing such as; coating cakes and various piping techniques such as lettering, crowning and flowers.

We have just started our first assessed piece, over the next 6 weeks, where we have to design and decorate a cake using the various competencies that we have learned, practiced and raged at for the last few months.

As part of this we have to reflect on the stages/weeks as we go along. What went well/wrong, needs changed/altered/removed etc...

So I thought I might as well stick a version of that on here for you lovely people to read and see how I am doing.

I am currently not sure how the posts will work as it is immensely difficult to explain some of  techniques without actually showing you them but we will see how it goes anyway.

Stage 1 - Marzipan

One of the first things we learned and surprisingly you don't just roll out a big sheet, plonk it on and smooth it out, it is a little more complex than that...

1) Firstly, what you do is, roll out a sheet of marzipan, in a circle, wider than the top of your cake. Invert your cake so the completely flat side is on the marzipan and cut out, using a sharp knife, a circle of the top of the cake. Take off the cake and brush with apricot jam then place the circle of marzipan on the top.

2) To create a perfectly flat side and a level cake, stuff marzipan in the little ridge on the underside of the cake, this secures the cake to the board, makes the side perfectly straight and makes the top of the cake level as well. Once stuffed, trim off any excess so it is even with the cake wall and smooth it round.

3) Using measuring tape, measure the circumference of your cake. Roll out the marzipan in along thin rectangle to the length you previously measured allowing excess for the top, the marzipan should be about 1/2 cm thick. Brush the cake walls with apricot jam and wrap the marzipan around it. Smooth the sides and make sure the sides seal with the circle of marzipan on the top.
Action Shot
 4) Using a sharp knife, insert it through the excess at the top so the flat of the blade slides along the top of the cake and trim off the excess carefully around the cake. Once trimmed, then smooth down making sure the cake sides and top are sealed. if you look very carefully at the picture below you can see the join mark.

Leave to dry for a day or two.

Yes, the cake is off centre but that is deliberate for design purposes. Next week: A Royal Icing coating.