Crème Caramel

Crème caramel looks classy. A perfectly baked custard with a smooth velvety texture and a dark layer on top where it has absorbed the caramel, covered in a shiny, golden brown sauce gives a level of elegance to this dessert that many others lack. It helps that crème caramel is often served in individual portions which makes it seem more personal rather than getting a slice of a huge multi-serving dessert. Crème caramel should not be confused with crème brulee which is also a baked custard; but as the latter is served in its ramekin, the custard is usually less set as it does not need to hold its shape (and of course, crème caramel has a liquid sauce whereas crème brulee has a hard layer of caramel on top).

What makes the custard for crème caramel unique is that is uses whole eggs. Most classic custards used in baking (crème anglaise and crème patisserie) use only egg yolks. This is because a crème caramel needs to be sturdy enough to stand up with no walls to hold it in but also should have a melt-in-the-mouth, velvety texture. Crème patisserie would make a good candidate for this as it is a strong custard which is thick enough to be piped however this comes from a starchy thickening agent (either cornflour or normal flour). This starch gives the custard a far claggier consistency which is very nice in eclairs or holding together a fraisier cake but does not lend itself well to a light dessert – it is far to rich. To get a softer texture, the egg whites are added to the crème caramel as these set when they cook. Egg white coagulates at a slightly lower temperature to the yolks (that’s how you get a runny yolk on your poached eggs) and as such, once the yolks are cooked, you can guarantee that the whites are too and that the dessert is ready to be taken from the oven.

Like most desserts which involve baking some sort of custard, crème caramel is taken out of the oven slightly before the middle is set. This is because milk and eggs have a moderately high specific heat capacity – it takes a lot of energy to raise the temperature by a small amount. As a result, the desserts can lose a lot of energy without cooling too much so they take a long time to cool and the residual heat in the custard will finish cooking the centre without overcooking it (as the overall temperature of the dessert will not rise once it removed from the oven). In the cases of some desserts (like pumpkin pie), the sugars in the custard will compound this effect – white sugar takes 50 times more energy to heat up and cool down than an equivalent quantity of water – and the pie can still be warm up to four hours after removal from the oven.

Crème caramel is best made the day before you wish to eat it. This is so the water in the custard has time to dissolve the caramel. Even if it doesn’t look like there is water available, caramel is hydroscopic and deliquescent. You can guarantee that it will pull moisture out of the custard and then proceed to dissolve in it to make the golden sauce you find covering all crème caramels. If you try to serve the crème caramel too soon, you will see a layer of undissolved caramel in the base of the ramekin after plating up. This is flavour which has been lost! I am not patient when it comes to eating things I have made. I want to eat them as soon as possible but, as I have learnt, sometimes it really is better to wait.

Like anything involving melted sugar, please be careful as caramel will badly burn you if it gets on your skin. Make sure that you don’t mess around with it and that you have access to a very cold tap should you manage to splash yourself. Do not let children near the caramel until it has cooled.

As you will realise, these are incredibly easy to make and taste fantastic. You should definitely try them out. They also make a brilliant dinner party food as they are prepared in advance, low effort and high impact.

 

 

Crème Caramel

 

For the caramel:

200g sugar

80ml water

Butter (for lining the ramekins)

 

For the custard:

1 pint whole milk

4 eggs

25g sugar

1 vanilla pod or 1 tsp vanilla extract

 

You will need 6 ramekins and a large tall sided baking dish which the ramekins will fit into.

 

Place the ramekins in the oven and heat to gas mark 2. This will prevent the ramekins from shattering when you pour the boiling caramel into them.

In a heavy-based steel pan (don’t use non-stick as it will cause the caramel to crystalize) mix the sugar and water.

Gently heat on the hob and stir to dissolve the sugar.

Once the sugar has all dissolved, turn the heat to maximum and boil the sugar and water mix until reaches a deep caramel colour. If you are unsure about how far to go, it is better to err on the side of caution and have slightly pale crème caramels the first time. You don’t want to burn the sugar.

While the sugar is boiling, run a basin about an inch full of cold water. The moment the caramel reaches the desired colour, plunge the base of the pan into the water to cool it. If you don’t do this, the latent heat in the saucepan can continue to cook the caramel causing it to burn.

The moment you have cooled the pan, pour the caramel into the ramekins and tilt them to make sure it runs right to the edges. Try not to let the caramel set too much as you may have to spread it with a spoon and it is very, very sticky (and hot).

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Allow the caramel to cool to room temperature. Do not place it in the fridge as the environment in it will cause the caramel to go soggy. This usually takes 30 minutes to an hour.  Don’t be worried if you hear cracking noises. That is the caramel contracting as it cools and it can crack a little but this will not affect the dessert. Just rest assured that it is not the ramekin that is breaking!

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If you are using a vanilla pod, split it down the middle and scrape out the seeds. If you are using extract, skip this and the next step.

Place it in a saucepan with the milk and gently heat until the milk is body temperature or feels slightly warm to the touch. Remove from the heat and let cool. Strain this before the next step so there are no little bits of vanilla pod in the final desert.

In a bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar. Whisk in the milk (and vanilla) to get a homogeneous mixture.

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Use butter to lightly grease the ramekins (but don’t grease the caramel). This will help later when you want to remove the crème caramels for serving.

Pour the milk mix into the ramekins splitting it evenly between them.

Place the ramekins in a large baking dish and fill it with boiling water until it comes half way up the side of the ramekins. Bake for 30-45 minutes at gas mark 2. You will know when they are done as the crème caramels will have a slight wobble in the centre when jiggled and will clearly not be liquid anymore. It should appear a little bit rubbery when you wobble them (but I promise the texture is incredibly soft.)

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Remove the desserts from the oven and the tray and leave to cool to room temperature. Cover them and leave in the fridge until serving. They can be eaten the day they are made but I would advise leaving them for 24 hours as in this time, the caramel will absorb into the dessert giving you the classic, golden sauce that pours out all over the crème caramel when you serve them.

To plate up, run a blunt knife around the outside of the crème caramel, invert onto a dish and jiggle until the dessert comes free. I often find that it can help to detach one area from the side of the ramekin to release the seal.

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If you enjoy baked custard desserts, you should check out my recipes for both pumpkin pie and a delicious chocolate tart!

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a simple weeknight meal which packs a punch of flavour.

H

Beef Dumplings

I was introduced to dumplings a few years ago by one of my best friends and housemate, Yan. I would recommend checking out her blog as she is a phenomenal cook. One time after visiting home for the weekend, she returned with a huge bag of homemade, frozen dumplings. Being the naïve person I am I assumed they were just like a Chinese version of ravioli – most cultures have some sort of meat wrapped in dough in their cuisines. My gosh was I wrong. Her mum’s dumplings were an experience that I have never forgotten.

It didn’t take long for Yan to suggest that we had a dumpling dinner day when we came together as a house and she taught us how to fold dumplings. I feel like I did very well out of this as the standard filling (and the one which Yan made) is pork based. As a result, I ended up making my own filling which was turkey based and there was a lot. Since then, I have experimented with different meat fillings and one tofu one – I primarily use beef and turkey. Coming up with an actual recipe for this post presented something of a problem as I usually eyeball the ingredients depending on how much ginger, garlic or chilli I am feeling like at the time.

The history of Chinese dumplings doesn’t specify the year when they first appeared but they seem to crop up sometime around 2000 years ago. They are traditionally boiled or steamed, however pan-fried ones have become very popular recently. These fried potstickers are crispy on the base and tender at the top. My favourite story of their origin is about a chef who was boiling his dumplings and took his eye off the pot. It boiled dry. Instead of starting again, he served up the dumplings and pretended that they were meant to be crispy on the base. The charade was so good that the eaters believed him and they enjoyed the contrasting textures so much that they requested the meal again. Since then potstickers have spread and nowadays are enjoyed all over the world.

Dumplings are great fun to make and are fantastic to do with friends – it not only speeds up the crimping process but gives you a chance to relax and have a nice chat or a catch up. I do not make them very often as I normally fold all the dumplings alone and I rarely have time for that, however when I can I love to make a batch and freeze them for a later date. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did when I first tried these dumplings.

 

 

Dumplings

Makes around 40 dumplings

Serves 3

Cost per portion: about £2.00

Time: 1.5 hours (wrapping 40 dumplings alone takes time but can be fun with a friend or even if you just put a film on in the background)

 

2-inch piece of ginger

3 garlic cloves

1 medium heat chilli (optional)

500g minced beef

One bunch spring onions/salad onions

1 tbsp dark soy sauce

1 tbsp sesame oil

Salt and pepper to taste

One pack dumpling skins

 

Optional

2 tbsp curry powder

1 tbsp chilli oil

 

Peel the ginger and garlic. Finely chop both and place them into a large bowl.

Finely chop the spring onions, including the green part, and add them to the ginger and garlic.

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If you want to add some spice, chop the chilli and add it to the bowl.

For curry dumplings or extra spicy dumplings, add the curry powder/chilli oil at this point.

Add the beef, soy, sesame oil, salt and pepper before mixing everything until it is fully combined. I tend to do this using my hands as I can feel when everything is mixed together.

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To make the dumplings, place a circle of pastry on a board.

Add a heaped teaspoon of filling to the centre.

Wet the edge of the wrapper and pinch to seal – this will make a very basic, uncrimped dumpling.

 

To crimp – I would recommend finding video tutorials as words and pictures will probably not do this justice but here goes (there are pictures of the steps below:

If you are right handed:

Make the filling paste into an oval

Pinch the wrapper at the edge of the oval using your left hand

Use your right thumb inside the dumpling to stabilise it and use your right and left index fingers to pinch together a second fold next to the first.

Fold this down and pinch it onto the uncrimped edge of the skin.

Repeat the crimping steps along the edge of the wrapper until you get all the way along.

As you crimp, the dumpling will start to curve around giving a crescent or half moon shape at the end.

Once you have finished crimping, go back over the edge and pinch together again to fully seal.

If you are left handed, just reverse the instructions above.

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After you have mastered the basic crimping technique, you can start to play around with it and make different shapes for different flavours.

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To cook, you can either steam, boil or pan fry the dumplings for around five minutes. I would not recommend trying to make these into potstickers as ultra-thin, shop bought skins do not stand up well to the different cooking techniques required to make good potstickers.

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These are best served with a dipping sauce made from soy, sesame oil and rice vinegar. I also like to add sriracha for some extra heat. I would give a recipe for the dipping sauce but it is very personal so I would recommend experimenting until you reach a satisfactory taste. Another thing I would recommend is making lots of dumplings. You can eat far more than you think!

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Steamed crystal dumplings with tofu

If you love dumplings, why not try my turkey filling? Any leftovers can be made into burgers for a separate meal. If you love Asian flavours but would prefer something a little less labour intensive, why not try my sticky salmon or my ginger tofu?

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a layered biscuit recipe.

H

 

 

Fruitcake

Fruitcake is a bit of a ’marmite-y’ food. You either love it or hate it. Clearly it’s the dried fruit that causes the issue as the recipe for a basic fruitcake is a standard sponge cake but uses brown sugar instead of white and often has no raising agent. The thing about fruitcake that really sets it apart is that it can last for years. Properly stored, you can keep a fruitcake for up to 25 years and still eat it without having to worry about food poisoning. This is probably because of the copious amounts of brandy in which this cake is soaked. A good fruitcake will be regularly ‘fed’ brandy for a month or so before it is stored and left to mature until it is needed.

Christmas cake is distinguished from normal fruitcake by the time of year at which it is eaten. The recipe is the same…. it’s just eaten in late December rather than at any other time. Whilst the darkness of the cake can come from using light and dark brown sugar, a properly deep brown colour is achieved by adding black treacle. Treacle is the bitumen (tar) of the sugar world. It is what is left over at the end of the refining process when the corn syrup, standard sugar and other lightly coloured products have been removed. It is full of ‘impurities’ which would ruin normal sugar syrup but are really only the minerals in the sugar beet or sugarcane, things like iron, magnesium, calcium etc. These minerals are so concentrated in black treacle that some brands have even been used as a health supplement.

The alcohol added to the fruitcake gives it a very moist crumb and an intense flavour without making it too boozy. This is because while the cake is maturing, all the liquid diffuses evenly throughout it whilst the alcohol evaporates leaving only its flavour behind. The hardiness of fruitcakes is what makes them so perfect for weddings. Cakes can be cut and pieces posted out to friends and family without the worry that all that will arrive will be a mushy mess.

The cake is very rich so you will get a lot of servings out of it – you cannot eat much at any one time. I hope you enjoy the recipe (and the cake in about two months time).

 

Fruitcake

450g currants

300g sultanas

275g raisins

200g glace cherries, rinsed and roughly chopped

100g mixed peel

250ml brandy

10oz flour

10oz brown sugar

10oz butter

5 eggs

1 tbsp black treacle

¾ tsp cinnamon

½ tsp nutmeg

¾ tsp mixed spice

Zest of 1 orange

 

Tip the sultanas, currants, raisins, peel and cherries into a large bowl.

Pour over the brandy, stir, cover tightly and leave to stand for 24 hours.

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Turn the oven to gas mark 1.

Line an eight-inch square tin or a nine inch round tin with a double thickness of baking parchment.

Cream the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Do not skimp on this stage. It should take at least five minutes.

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Beat in the treacle.

Beat the eggs lightly to combine.

Add the egg a tablespoon at a time beating after each addition to prevent curdling. If the mixture looks like it is beginning to curdle, add a tablespoon of flour.

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Once the egg has all been incorporated, add the flour and spices and lightly beat until just combined.

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Drain the dried fruit and reserve the brandy for later (it will be used to feed the fruitcake).

Add the fruit to the cake mix and use a wooden spoon to combine by hand. This prevents the fruit from being pulverised.

Tip into the tin and spread out evenly.

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If you are using metal tins, tie a strip of baking parchment around the outside of the cake so that it comes up to at least double the height of the tin. Also cut out a circle/square of parchment which will fit over the top of the cake – this will stop it from browning.

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Bake for four hours.

Remove the parchment covering the top and bake for another 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean (it may be a little wet but not mushy). If the cake begins to brown too much, place the parchment back over the top.

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Remove the cake from the oven and leave to cool.

Once it is cold, prick it all over and spoon two tablespoons of the brandy over the cake. Leave for an hour to absorb and then wrap the cake tightly in baking parchment and then foil.

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Leave the cake to mature for at least two weeks (although preferably a month) feeding the cake brandy twice each week.

After the cake has matured, you can serve it as it is or decorate it with marzipan and royal icing to make a proper Christmas/wedding/decorative cake.

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you love cake, be sure to check out the recipe for my beautiful chocolate raspberry layer cake.

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a winter warmer to keep you going strong into the new year.

H

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Pumpkin Pie

For such a bland ingredient, I find it fascinating that pumpkin has a whole dessert dedicated to it. That being said, the predominant flavour of a pumpkin pie is a sweet, spiced custard. This is not a bad thing in my eyes. The pumpkin is mainly there as a medium to keep the sugar and flavours in one place after the pie is cut open – a job that it does magnificently.

A classic problem most people face with a pumpkin pie is the dreaded crack. This is no Madeira cake, where you want the filling to bubble up from within like lava leaking from a volcano, this is a beautiful glossy pie with a smooth flat top. The reason that pies crack is overcooking – specifically overcooked egg. This is, of course, a problem as the egg is what causes the filling to set and gives the melt in your mouth, custardy texture. As an egg cooks, the proteins inside it tighten and cause it to shrink. Anyone who has fried an egg will have seen how the edges pull in ever so slightly as they cook, giving a slightly smaller, thicker end result than one would otherwise get. This phenomenon, when spread over the entire width of a pie, can do irreparable damage which can be hidden by whipped cream but will always be there.

“So how”, I hear you shout, “can I stop my pie from cracking?” There are two easy solutions. One: do not overcook the pie, the eggs should be just set and the centre of the pie should be slightly wobbly when it is taken out of the oven. Two: replace some of the egg white with egg yolks. In the recipe below, you will see that there is only one egg white whilst there are four egg yolks. The yolk cooks at a slightly higher temperature than the white of the egg and also shrinks far less if overdone. That is not to say that this solution will ensure perfection every time – everyone messes stuff up occasionally. What this does do however is give you a larger margin of error on your pie. With such a high specific heat capacity due to the fat content, the pumpkin pie will take a good few hours to cool. Leave at least four if you are serving it that day. In this time, the latent heat inside the pie will finish cooking the centre. I should note that we aren’t talking about a small central area here, you should be envisioning a solid four-inch-wide circle in the middle of the pie which appears sunken when the pie comes out of the oven. The puffed-up edges will deflate as the pie cools and the centre will firm up. If your pie is fully cooked through when you remove it from the oven, it is almost guaranteed to crack as it cools if it has not done so already.

All that doom and gloom aside, these pies are celebratory. They are a celebration of the harvest and one of the foods which Americans can proudly call their own. The first recipes for sweet pumpkin pies appeared during the 1800s and their popularity has grown ever since. After the civil war, pumpkin pies were rejected by many southern areas as a way of renouncing what they saw as a Unionist tradition being forced upon them. In retaliation, many people ate sweet potato pies or included pecan nuts and bourbon in their pumpkin pie recipes to separate their pies from the classic “yankee” pie. Nowadays, it is traditional to serve a pumpkin pie as dessert after the Thanksgiving meal but they can, of course, be eaten at any time of the year.

I hope you enjoy the recipe as much as I did – I will certainly be making this again.

Pumpkin Pie

Pastry:

4oz cold butter

8oz flour

3 tbsp caster sugar

60ml cold water (ideally from the fridge)

Pinch of salt

Pumpkin Filling:

1 tin pumpkin puree (15oz/425g)

1 tin condensed milk (14oz/400g)

1 egg

3 egg yolks

1 tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground ginger

¼ tsp Chinese five spice (or a pinch of ground cloves, ground star anise and ground pepper)

½ tsp salt

To make the pastry, cube the butter and rub it into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.

Stir through the salt and sugar.

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Add half of the water and stir with a knife until the mixture begins to come together. If it is still dry, add more of the water.

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Once the dough has started forming into pieces, tip it out onto a workbench and knead it together into one ball. Try to work the dough as little as possible.

Flatten the dough into a thick disk (about 2cm high) and wrap it in cling film before placing it in the fridge to chill.

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In a large bowl whisk the egg and extra yolks into the pumpkin puree.

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Whisk in the spices, salt and then the condensed milk.

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If you don’t have Chinese five spice, you can substitute it with cloves, star anise and ground pepper, I don’t have these in ground form at home so had to grind them by hand in a mortar and pestle. It doesn’t take that long but you have to remember that a pepper grinder like the ones you would use at dinner will not grind the pepper enough for this recipe. You do not want lumps of pepper in your pie!

Preheat your oven to gas mark 7 (210°C)

Butter a 10 inch pie dish.

Roll out the pastry and line the pie dish with it.

Trim the edges leaving a 2cm overhang.

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Fold this overhang back side the pie and press it into the top edge, this will give you a thick rim which you can crimp.

To crimp the rim of the pie dish, one finger of your left thumb and your right thumb and forefinger to press the edge of the pie into a little divot. Repeat this around the whole pie to get a beautiful edge.

OPTIONAL BUT RECOMMENDED: Using foil and baking beads, blind bake the case for around ten minutes. This will help avoid a soggy bottom late on, you don’t need to bake it for long as it will have another 45 minutes or so in the oven to crisp up but I have found that if you do not blind bake this, although fully cooked, the pastry can be a little bit soft.

Pour the filling into the pastry case and place back into the oven for 15 minutes.

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Turn the oven down to gas mark 3 (170°C) and bake for another 30-40 minutes. When fully cooked, the pie should be just set in the middle and a skewer inserted an inch away from the pastry case should come out clean.

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Allow the pie to cool completely before serving.

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As usual, the first slice may be a little problematic to get out but after that, all slices of pie will come out beautifully and taste amazing – just remember to loosen them underneath with a knife or offset spatula before you try to lift them off the plate.

Serve with lightly whipped double cream and a sprinkle of ground cinnamon. You do not need to add any sugar or flavouring to the cream as the pie is sweet enough already.

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The flavour of this pie is gorgeous and its custardy texture is ultra smooth and creamy. It is simply divine. Of course, not everyone likes pumpkin pie and if you are one of those people, why not try making my raspberry and white chocolate pie – or maybe ever a quadruple chocolate and salted caramel one? If, on the other hand, you are looking for something a little bit more savoury, why not try making a flavourful hot water crust chicken pie? It’s sturdy enough to survive in a lunchbox and just a good cold as it is hot.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with another meal idea.

H

Sweet Potato and Butternut Squash Crumble

One of the best things about cooking is how easily most mistakes can be rectified. A good sauce can cover up a multitude of sins and, in many cases, is the reason a dish tastes so good. They provide a way to add flavour to food without having to do too much extra cooking; they can save a piece of meat that has been a little overcooked by reintroducing moisture; and of course they can make or break the balance of a dish.

This recipe is based on one of the five “mother” sauces of French cooking – the béchamel. White sauces like this are cooked by making a roux from flour and butter and then adding milk to thin it down to the desired consistency. Personally, I like the cheat’s version where you whisk the flour into the milk so it is no longer clumpy, add the butter and then heat the sauce until it thickens. The cheat’s method is incredibly useful for a basic béchamel with no added frills as it avoids any problems of the roux burning. A true béchamel presents an extra chance for flavour – you can infuse the milk with herbs, spices and other tastes before you add it, giving another dimension to the dish.

The béchamel sauce did not actually originate in France. It was bought over in the early 1500s from Tuscany, Italy. Known as the Salsa Colla (or “glue sauce”) because of its gummy consistency, the sauce was altered from its base components of flour, butter and milk by adding stock and cream. This action not only added a lot of flavour, but changed the sauce from a béchamel to a velouté – one of the other five base sauces. The three other sauces that I haven’t mentioned yet are the espagnole – a brown roux based sauce with dark veal stock instead of milk, the hollandaise – made by emulsifying butter and egg yolks with a little vinegar and the sauce tomate – a basic tomato sauce. The velouté is like a cross between the béchamel and the espagnole, a light roux is made and then stock is added to thin it down. The sauce is then thickened again using cream and egg yolks to give a velvety mouth feel.

In the recipe below, I use a Mornay sauce – a term I only learnt when researching for this post. This sauce is almost identical to the béchamel except it includes grated cheese, traditionally gruyère, which is melted into the base white sauce. The Mornay is used in most recipes for macaroni and cheese – although in my recipe, I am pretty sure that there is more cheese than anything else – and in the same vein, I am using it here inside the crumble to add moisture and flavour instead of pouring it over the top of the finished product.

This recipe is a great dinner to prep ahead of time and also keeps well in the fridge which is ideal as leftovers mean less cooking the next day! You can tailor the vegetables in the base to your favourites or even just change them every now and then to keep the food interesting. I love this and I hope you do too.

 

 

Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Crumble

Prep time: 45 minutes

Cook time: 45-60 minutes

Serves: 6

Cost per portion: around 75p

 

 

 

200g butternut squash – cut into small cubes (around one or two centimetres)

200g sweet potato – cut into small cubes (a lot of supermarkets sell prebagged mixes of butternut squash and sweet potato; if you prefer, you can just use one of these instead of cutting your own veg. It saves a lot of time)

1 medium onion

50g butter

25g flour

100-150g grated cheddar cheese

250ml milk

Salt and pepper

 

For the crumble

100g flour

100g butter

35g porridge oats

60g grated fresh parmesan

3 grinds of pepper

 

Melt 25g of butter in a pan.

Finely dice the onion and fry it in the butter for a few minutes until it turns translucent.

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Add the sweet potato and butternut squash and pan roast for around ten minutes. Stir it every few minutes to ensure the vegetables are evenly heated and the ones at the base don’t burn.

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Pour the vegetables into an oven proof dish.

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Put the milk and flour in a pan (you can use the one which the veg was cooked in to avoid extra washing up).

Use a whisk to mix them together to avoid any lumps of flour.

Add the remaining 25g of butter to the sauce mix and gently heat whilst whisking continuously.

After a few minutes, the sauce will begin to thicken as the flour cooks.

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Once the sauce has thickened up and is beginning to bubble, remove it from the heat and stir through the grated cheese, pepper and a little salt (to taste). You want to let the latent heat of the sauce melt the cheese as melting it over the stove will cause the cheese to go stringy.

When you can no longer see anymore cheese in the pan, pour the sauce over the vegetables and stir them together in the oven dish.

 

For the crumble, rub the butter into the flour.

Stir through the rest of the ingredients and then pour the crumble over the vegetable mix.

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Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (200°C).

Bake the crumble for 45 minutes or up to an hour for an extra crispy crumble. If the crumble starts to turn too dark, cover the top with foil and continue to cook.

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This crumble is stunningly good and can be prepared ahead of time. Just pop it in the oven an hour before you wish to eat and relax!

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If you liked this, you should definitely check out my recipe for macaroni and cheese or if you are looking for something a bit more on the sweet side, why not treat yourself to a delicious honey cake?

Have a good one and I will be back next week for a delicious bread recipe.

H

 

 

Honey Cake

One of the coolest things about honey is that it doesn’t go off. It is so sweet that microbes cannot grow in it and while the sugars can crystallise over time, the honey itself will remain unspoiled in a sealed container for years and years.

Honey is one of – if not the – oldest ingredients used in cookery. Unlike flour, fruits and processed sugar, honey hasn’t really changed since we started harvesting it almost eight millennia ago. There are cave paintings from the Mesolithic era which are found in Valencia, Spain which depict hunters gathering honey. The cave painting is surprisingly unambiguous. You can clearly see a human, surrounded by little bugs, reaching into a hive with one hand and holding a basket in the other. There is also physical evidence of honey from around 5000 years ago, when honey was found on the inside walls of clay pots in Georgia. The fact that the honey was sill recognisable is a true testament to how well it keeps.

This post has come about because it is approaching Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year – which falls this weekend). Honey is used as a symbolic way of wishing people a sweet new year and as a result, is added to many different foods. Honey cake is the obvious one, but we also use honey to sweeten bread and during the Rosh Hashanah meal, slices of apple dipped in honey are eaten. It also appears in Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism along with the Ancient Greek pantheon of gods. It is normally seen as a food of immortality and food of the gods as well as possessing great healing properties.

Outside of cooking, honey has been used as a medicine for a long time. It was used to help bind herbs in salves and pastes since the Romans and was particularly prominent in Celtic medicine and druidic rituals. This use most likely stems from the fact that honey is incredibly sticky so would hold the salves in place whilst also creating a seal to keep out infection. Nowadays, there is very little evidence that honey actually helps with treating any medical condition although it is very good for soothing a sore throat – just mix a spoon of honey into a cup of hot water with a few slices of lemon and drink it.

The cakes below are amazing fresh out of the oven but are even better if you let them cool, wrap them up in foil, and allow them to sit for a week in a pantry or on the side in your kitchen. The time allows the flavours to mature creating a far more complex taste. Cinnamon, ginger, orange and mixed spice all help give these cakes their distinctive flavour which must be tried to understand how amazing it is. This recipe is from Evelyn Rose and to be honest, I wouldn’t want to change a single thing about it. As an added bonus, these cakes are dairy free.

 

 

Honey Cakes

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 50 minutes

Makes two cakes

 

12 oz. (335g) plain flour

6 oz. (170g) caster sugar

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp ground cinnamon

2 tsp ground mixed spice

16 oz. (450g) honey – I just used a whole jar

½ cup (125ml) vegetable oil

4 eggs

2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Zest of two oranges

250 ml orange juice

 

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4 (180°C).

Line two 9×9 inching tins with baking parchment.

Fill a jug with hot water and place the jar of honey (still closed) into it. The heat will slacken the honey up making it far easier to use later on.

Mix the flour, sugar and spices in a bowl and make a well in the centre.

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Pour in the honey, eggs, orange zest and oil before beating together – you can do this by hand but it’s a lot easier if you use an electric mixer.

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In a jug, whisk the bicarbonate of soda into the orange juice and after it has foamed up, pour it into the cake mix and beat it all together.

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Pour the cake batter into the two tins and bake in the oven for 50-55 minutes, or until the cakes are fully cooked.

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Move the cakes onto a cooling rack but don’t remove the baking parchment from them.

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Once the cakes have cooled, wrap them up in foil making sure to seal around the edge before leaving them for a week of two for the flavours to mature.

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. The cakes are delicious but very sweet – we don’t tend to eat them very fast at home because you only have a small piece at a time. It is fantastic to eat alongside a cup of tea. If you love baking but are looking for something a little bit less sugary, check out how to make some delicious shortbread or if you want something more on the savoury side, why not make yourself some delicious ginger tofu. It’s fab both hot and cold.

 

Have a good one and I will see you next week with a rich, flavourful, savoury crumble.

H

Smoked Salmon Risotto

Smoked salmon is definitely a delicacy. It’s relatively expensive which isn’t ideal because I can easily sit down and eat an entire packet in one go. The trick with smoked salmon is making it go further and putting it into a risotto is a fantastic way to flavour a large amount of food without needing too much of the fish itself.

Smoking food became popular as a good way of preserving it. Upping the salt content and decreasing the moisture makes it very hard for bacteria to grow in the food helping it keep longer before spoiling. The process of smoking food has probably been around since humans evolved. Food would be stored off the ground to keep it away from pests but the lack of ventilation in the dwellings led to the build up of smoke at the top of the houses – where the food was stored – and thus the food was smoked. Once people realised that smoked foods lasted far longer than those which were unsmoked, smoking became a widely used preservation method. As it was functional rather than for flavour, large amounts of salt were used to draw out the moisture and the smoking time was often days long. As infrastructure improved, food could be stored in fridges and cold houses. As a result, the quantity of smoke and salt used to preserve foods declined leading to what we have today.

There are several different methods of smoking; the most common types being hot and cold smoking. The process of cold smoking does not cook the meat and because of that, brining and curing must be done before the food is smoked. This is what gives us the classic smoked salmon that you see in a supermarket, thinly sliced and still a bright pink colour. In contrast to this, hot smoking cooks the fish. This means that the food is safe to eat without further cooking as may sometimes be necessary with cold smoking.

The first time I tried this recipe, I was having dinner at a friend’s house and we ended up cooking together. I must admit I was a bit dubious as the idea of placing smoked salmon into a hot saucepan of rice worried me greatly; surely the salmon would just go hard and leathery and lose its flavour? That is the beauty of this recipe. If done right, the latent heat in the risotto should cook the chopped salmon just enough to change its colour whilst still allowing it to remain soft. The remaining salmon is served on top of the risotto keeping it from the heat and therefore preventing it cooking.

This dish really is a treat so I hope you enjoy it.

 

Smoked Salmon Risotto

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Serves 2

Cost per portion: around £2.40

 

1 small onion finely diced

1 clove of garlic minced

175g risotto rice (I like to use Arborio risotto rice)

750ml vegetable stock

Zest of one lemon

Juice of half a lemon

1 tbsp chopped parsley

60g mascarpone

100g smoked salmon

1 tbsp oil

 

Sautee the onion in the oil for five minutes until it starts to soften and goes translucent.

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Add the garlic and rice and fry for another minute.

Pour in half of the stock and stir everything together. Wait for the rice to absorb the stock stirring regularly.

Once the stock is all absorbed, add half of the remaining liquid and stir it through.

Repeat with the remaining stock.

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After the first addition of stock vs. after the risotto is cooked.

If the rice isn’t fully cooked at this point, add another tablespoon of water and continue to cook over a medium heat stirring regularly to ensure that all the rice is cooked evenly.

Once the rice is almost cooked through, add the mascarpone, lemon juice, zest and the parsley and stir through. Cook for another minute.

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Remove the risotto from the heat and cover.

Chop about three quarters of the smoked salmon into small pieces.

Stir these through the risotto, the remaining heat should cook the salmon but not make it leathery.

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Serve the risotto immediately and top with the remaining salmon.

If you so wish, garnish the risotto with parsley and lemon zest.

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I hope you enjoyed this recipe. It’s a luxurious meal yet still quite light and doesn’t leave you feeling bloated. If you fancy a bit of a more fiery dinner, check out how to make my spicy enchiladas or if you are looking for something a little sweeter, why not make a carrot cake? It’s big, moist and packed full of flavour.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a slightly more basic recipe for some delicious biscuits!

H