Tuesday, 31 May 2011

A chocolate cake for adults

If cakes had personalities this one would be moody, dark and intense. Not surprising given its ingredients; Guinness, cocoa, buttermilk, mascarpone, white chocolate, dark chocolate and vanilla pods.  

I made this damp and rather sophisticated creation not just because my husband is a cake addict and as a wife I like to please him, nor because I'd been dying to use some of the 50 giant vanilla pods my dad sent me from France, but because today at work it was my turn in this weeks Rate My Cake.

I introduced Rate My Cake at the office to give us some tasty, playful fun once a week, bringing us ladies together over sweet baked treats. But what began as a light hearted (WI style) affair quickly turned rather serious and competitive (army style - strategic and deadly), and I've since heard it referred to as Cake Wars.

You don't need to introduce this game at work in order to make this cake though, fear not. But, it is rather impressive tasting so would lend itself well to a dinner party, or it would perhaps make a nice gift for a cake or chocolate loving friend. Alternatively, bake it and scoff the lot yourself.

You can't really taste the Guinness in it once its cooled, but its partly the black stuff that gives it its colour and damp darkness. The base is dense but not overly so, and the white ganache coating perfectly balances the darkness with a spike of vanilla infused sweetness.

PS...I originally got the recipe for this from the gorgeous Hummingbird Bakery on Stylist.co.uk and have adapted it a bit and changed the frosting - and in case you're wondering, I'm currently in the lead in Rate My Cake!

For one cake, 23" diameter:
1 fat vanilla pod
250mls Guinness
250g unsalted butter
80g cocoa powder, sieved
400g golden caster sugar
2 eggs
140mls buttermilk
280g plain flour
2tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2tsp baking powder
A scrunch of sea salt

The ganache frosting
1 fat vanilla pod
120g mascarpone
100g cream cheese
100g good quality white chocolate, broken into pieces
3 heaped tablespoons icing sugar, sieved
25g unsalted butter
Dark chocolate for grating

- Preheat your oven to 170degrees
- In a saucepan place your Guinness, deseeded vanilla pod and stem and butter and cook on a low heat until the butter has melted, then remove from the heat
- Add the beaten eggs and buttermilk to the pan and stir to combine, then add the sugar and sieved cocoa
- In a large mixing bowl combine the sieved flour, baking powder, bicarb and salt and then pour over the pan contents
- Using a hand blender (or do it all in your Kenwood if you have one) bring the mixture together until its all combined and is nice and glossy and thick
Top Jamie Oliver tip alert...
- Take your cake tin or silicone mould (make sure its a deep one as otherwise the mixture will overflow) and tear off enough baking parchment so that it will fit inside and give a good overhang. Now scrunch the parchment up into a ball and run it under the tap, soaking it through
- Now straighten it out on your work surface and butter one side of it, and now you can lay it into the baking tin with the butter side up. The paper being wet will mean you can get it into the corners properly and it wont pop out
- Pour the mixture into the tin and pop into the oven for 40 minutes. Depending on how your oven behaves 40 minutes might be enough, but mine needed an extra 12 on top - basically check it at 40, if there is no wobble in the centre then spear it with a knife and if it comes out clean its done. If not keep going and check and spear it regularly - you want to remove it as soon as its done and the knife comes out clear
- Leave it for around 20 minutes before lifting it out by its paper (with the help of someone else so that you have all four corners covered and don't make it crack down the centre) and pop it onto a cooling rack
- If your cake sinks in the middle don't worry, simply use a bread knife to cut some of the top off to even it up
- Once its totally cooled (don't frost it or move it until it is) pop a plate on the top and turn it over, peel off the baking parchment and then turn it back onto the rack, now put your cake stand or whatever its going to be staying on over the top and turn it back over ready for icing )you will effectively be icing its bottom)
- Into a glass bowl over simmering water (that isn't touching the glass) break your chocolate and scrape the seeds out of your other vanilla pod
- Once the chocolate has melted take it off the pan of water and onto a work surface. Add to the bowl the icing sugar, butter, mascarpone and cream cheese and using your hand blender bring it together until its all combined
- Now its time to get plastering (don't worry if you cant get it smooth its all part of its charm). Using a spatula smooth the ganache over the top of the cake and then around the sides until its been covered, finally give it a liberal grating of dark chocolate and then set it aside for the ganace to set a little - this will take around 30 minutes
- Devour - goes well with a cup of tea or a slug of dessert wine.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Halibut baked with fennel and chorizo, and Jersey royals with samphire in mint butter

I didn't decide to cook this just because I wanted to use my new serving dish (a charity shop bargain purchased this weekend for just £3) though it was a bit of an extra incentive.

The dish actually started with the halibut, samphire and chorizo, and I'm so pleased with how the combination of flavours turned out I can see it making a regular appearance at our dining table.

The fennel and lemon base is a fantastic accompaniment to all kinds of baked fish, in this case I used halibut but you could use any other firm fleshed fish if you cant get hold of it. It's well worth hunting out the samphire, it tastes of the sea and has a succulent, crunchy texture that is complemented very nicely by the mint butter.

For two:
Two fillets of halibut
2 cooking chorizos (these are around 3 inches each in length) diced and dry fried in a pan until crisp, then set aside
One large fennel bulb, finely sliced on the mandolins finest setting
One large red onion, finely sliced on the mandolins finest setting
Juice of three lemons
150mls extra virgin olive oil
A small handful of fresh chervil, or if you cant get it, use the fennel tops
2 cloves of smoked garlic, if you cant get smoked then use regular, one finely sliced the other left whole and peeled
A handful of fresh mint leaves
A large knob of butter (unsalted)
100g fresh samphire, rinsed in cold water and drained
As many Jersey royal potatoes as you want to eat
Black pepper

- Preheat your oven to 200degrees
- Add the butter, whole clove of garlic and fresh mint to your food processor and blitz to create your mint butter, set aside
- To a roasting tin or pot with a lid combine your fennel, red onion, sliced garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and several scrunches of black pepper and combine together with your hands, put a lid on or cover it with foil and then place into the oven for 15 minutes
- Place your potatoes into a pan and cover with water and a bit of salt
- When there are 5 minutes left on the fennel and onion mixture turn the potatoes on to boil with the lid on the pan
- Remove the dish from the oven and take the lid off, mix together and add the chorizo to the pan, then lay the fish fillets over the top and put the lid back on, put back in the oven for 10 minutes
- Once the potatoes are done (they should be ready a good few minutes before the fish) remove and drain them and let them sit steaming in a colander
- Heat a frying pan on a high heat and add a small knob of unsalted butter, add the samphire and toss in the butter heating them through. Now add the potatoes to the pan and toss together with the samphire and add the mint butter to the pan, keep tossing the pan until the mint butter has melted and covered the potatoes and samphire, don't worry if the potatoes break up a little, it will help get the buttery flavour into them
- Remove the potatoes from the heat and then the fish from the oven
- Tip the potatoes and samphire into a serving dish, then carefully take the fish and fennel out and decant onto plates or a serving dish
- Top the fish with the fresh chervil or fennel tops and eat

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Olive oil roasted cauliflower with feta and mint

Who fancies joining a food movement requiring little effort? I'm convinced that this dish could rescue the cauliflower from plummeting popularity and sliding sales.  

Try it, I guarantee you'll never have thought this knobbly white vegetable could taste this incredible - it's soft textured inside but has deliciously chewy edges, with the olive oil and seasoning making it very luxurious and moreish indeed.

Leave the feta out and have it as a side dish to joints of meat, feta in and have it with baked fish, or eat it as we did for late lunch today and enjoy it all on its own - there are lots of possibilities.

Plus it's very easy and inexpensive - another couple of reasons this recipe is a winner and a must try. I hope you give it a go - if you do why not pass the recipe on to a friend, I wonder how far it could get and if we could help save the poor old cauliflower from being forgotten.

For two as a main:
1 large head of cauliflower, cut into florets
Good quality extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper
Half a block of feta, crumbled
A handful of fresh mint leaves, laid on top of each other, rolled up and then finely cut (this is called chiffonading)

- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees
- Place the florets into a large bowl and pour over several generous glugs of extra virgin olive oil, now add a few scrunches of sea salt and black pepper to the florets, and toss together with your hands, add more olive oil if it's disappeared and you have sides of the florets that have none on them
- Transfer the florets to a roasting tin and bake for 40 minutes, turning over every 10-15 minutes so that they become nice and dark evenly around them
- When they are golden, soft and have some quite dark edges it's time to remove them
- Put them into a serving dish and crumble over the feta, then sprinkle on the mint and toss together
- Serve

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Speckled spelt 'pizza' with Roquefort and walnuts for when you've been naughty

Who says being good means suffering at the altar of self denial? Spelt flatbreads topped with bright green loveliness are a great way to pack in the goodness when you've overdone things somewhat.

Last Saturday night I had a bit of a crazy one. I didn't intend for it to be quite so wild, but sometimes these nights take you by surprise don't they.

Don't get me wrong, I didn't expect not to drink a drop, and I suppose when seeing a very old friend who can really put it away that going overboard is a distinct possibility. But last Saturday night the-princess-of-darkness-Ciara-O'Reilly and I really went to town and drank six bottles of fizz.

Yes you read that correctly - six bottles. Between just the two of us. It's obscene. Especially considering we didn't have a scrap of food to eat either.

I had a really great night, the kind that makes me wistful about old times and longing to live closer to good friends. But Sunday came and went with me in bed feeling wretched, and by bank holiday Monday I still had an enormous hangover and struggled to do anything.

Needless to say food this week has been that of ease and virtue. Next time with Miss O'Reilly, I shall make sure to tread a more reasonable path to enjoyment.

The brief when considering what to make for supper this evening was to cram in as much greenery to feed my poor body and mind as possible, but often when forcing as much 'good' stuff inside me as I can leaves me feeling a bit bored and uninspired. Not today - this green spelt 'pizza' is a seriously tasty way of being good.

For two, and with two flatbreads left for something else:
A couple of handfuls of rocket
2 spring onions, finely chopped
1 small red onion, shaved very finely on the mandolin
1 fennel bulb, shaved very finely on the mandolin
A couple of tablespoons walnuts, lightly crushed
Around 70g crumbled Roquefort
The juice of one juicy lemon
1 ripe avocado
100g shelled broad beans (easiest done after boiling briefly and then cooling in cold water)
2 tablespoons natural yogurt
A handful of fresh mint
Good quality extra virgin olive oil
A heaped teaspoon black onion seeds
Sea salt and black pepper
340g white spelt flour
1 teaspoon yeast granules
1 teaspoon honey
1 cup of warm water

Start with making the dough - which is rather soft and wibbly before cooking so needs lots of extra flour on your work top to stop it from sticking - Add 2 scrunches of salt, honey and the yeast to the cup of warm water and leave for 10 minutes
- In a mixing bowl place the flour and onion seeds, make a hole in the centre of the dough (reserving a bit for kneading) and pour the water in, then using your hands mix it all together until you've formed a ball of dough
- Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently for a couple of minutes, then place it into a floured bowl and cover with cling film for an hour
- Take the dough out of the bowl and turn it out onto a floured surface, cut into quarters and roll each out each in turn into as round a shape as you can make 
- Lay them one at a time on a lightly oiled baking sheet on a baking tray and bake for 11 minutes until you've baked all four. Remove them from the oven and turn the oven off
- Pile them up separated by baking paper, this will stop them cooling down and getting stuck to each other, and will keep them just crisp enough
- In a food processor combine the broad beans, avocado, yogurt, mint, a scrunch of sea salt and a generous glug of extra virgin olive oil, and blitz until its formed a smooth paste
- Into a mixing bowl combine the razor thin red onion, spring onion, razor thin fennel, lemon juice and a scrunch of sea salt and mix together with your fingers, then add the rocket and combine gently again - you want to keep the rocket from going soggy
- Use half the avocado mixture on each of the 2 flatbreads and smear it over the breads like you would a tomato sauce on a pizza
- Cut the breads up on a chopping board and move them to a plate (I find it easier to cut them up before piling everything on them)
- Now pile up the fennel and rocket mixture onto each of the slices
- Top with the crushed walnuts and dots of the Roquefort cheese, then eat

Vietnamese style summer rolls with rare sesame tuna and fresh herbs

These rolls are packed with freshness and flavour, making a perfect light lunchtime dish when the weather's warm and humid.

Along with the juicy tuna steak I filled the rolls with crisp cucumber shards, spring onion, rice noodles, corriander, mint and basil. Use Thai holy basil if you can find it but I'm really struggling to, so am growing my own instead.

You can make them with all sorts of fillings so long as you cram in the herbs - that's the key to them being so fragrant, then use the dipping sauces to get in some chilli zing and tart sweetness to excite your tastebuds even more.

For two:
One tuna steak
A tablespoon each of black and white sesame seeds
A teaspoon sea salt
Oil for frying
8 rice paper roll sheets - get them from an Asian supermarket or order them online easily enough
Skinny rice noodles made up as per the pack instructions, then cooled under cold water and drained - I used one large sheet of rice noodles
A teaspoon toasted sesame oil
Quarter of a large cucumber, cored and cut into fine strips
2 spring onions, top and tailed, cut in half and finely shredded
Half a red onion, peeled, halved and very finely sliced
A handful of fresh mint, finely chopped
A handful of fresh basil
A handful of fresh corriander - roots chopped finely, leaves left whole
Juice of half a juicy lemon
A tablespoon fish sauce
Two heaped teaspoons grated palm sugar
Sweet chilli sauce (bought, I don't make my own or at least not for this)

- To give your dressing time to steep make that first, simply combine the lemon juice, palm sugar and fish sauce in a pot and stir, then set aside
- Turn your oven on to 50 degrees and lay your cold rice noodles out onto a baking sheet, bake in the oven for around 20 minutes - this is only to dry them out so the rolls don't get soggy, not to cook them. Turn them over once whilst drying
- Onto a small plate sprinkle out your sesame seeds and salt, and lay the tuna steak onto the plate, turn it over on both sides and all edges until its covered in the seeds and salt
- Heat a frying pan on a high heat, add a drop of oil to the pan and wait for it to get hot. Take your tuna steak and place it into the hot pan - cook for a minute on each side and then the edges (longer if the steak is thicker - just remember you want it to be rare inside)
- Remove the tuna from the pan and set on a chopping board, slice into strips then break those strips into the flakes, set aside
- In a bowl combine the herbs, spring onions, red onion, cucumber and sesame oil and toss together with your hands, now add the tuna to the mixture and combine gently
- Take the noodles out of the oven
- Fill a large bowl with water that's a hot as your hands can stand, place a plate in front of you to work on
- Take one of the rice paper sheets and submerge it in the water for around 20 seconds, or until it has just turned soft, remove it carefully so it doesn't tear and lay it out on the plate in front of you, smoothing out any bubbles or folds
- Lay some rice noodles down first, horizontally and closer to you than the centre of the sheet - a small bunch, and then on top lay the herb and tuna mixture
- Bring the sides in on the rolls as in the picture and then fold the bottom edge that's closet to you up and over - attaching to the brought in edges. Now as you would with a spring roll, tuck the ingredients down into the envelope you've created, and begin folding it over into a roll, roll it over and over until its totally closed, sealed and you have your summer roll ready. Repeat with the other sheets until all the mixture is used up
- Decant the sweet chilli sauce into a pot or glass, and do the same with the fish sauce and palm sugar dressing into another glass
- Plate the rolls together (for prettiness!), dress with a few more fresh herbs and serve with the dipping sauces