Thursday, 31 March 2011

Mayonnaise Brownies

Lora Brody once said “Don’t wreck a sublime chocolate experience by feeling guilty” but I find this hard. Food guilt is something that I struggle with, which does tend to clash terribly with my passion for the stuff.

It’s good, then, that there are recipes out there for those of us who would like to indulge but also want to feel as virtuous as possible. Angela Nilsen of BBC Good Food has developed a brownie recipe in her ‘ultimate make over’ series which has a reduced fat content compared to your 'average' brownie.

You will notice that the recipe contains a somewhat unorthodox ingredient. Go on, scan the list below... See anything strange? Yep. Mayonnaise. When I saw it listed, I knew that I had to give it a try which coincided nicely with my egg-induced baking frenzy. The recipe is nice and easy to follow though making brownies isn’t exactly rocket science, I know. They came out of the oven looking as you would expect any normal condiment-free brownie would. Then came the taste test. Taking a big bite (for research purposes...), I chewed and waited to see if there was any hint of strangeness to the cake but it didn’t come. It’s just nice, stodgy, chocolatey brownie. But then again, I might be biased. I tried it out on The Boy, who approved, and then my workmates. Each time, I let them take a bite and asked them what I thought of my new recipe. None of them were any the wiser and were surprised when I let them in on the secret ingredient. But as one of my colleagues pointed out, mayonnaise is pretty much just eggs and oil.

I don’t think that they’re quite as nice as my favourite Allegra McEvedy recipe for brownies but it’s good enough to warrant giving it a try. So banish your food guilt and give in to a chocolate hit!

‘Made Over’ Brownies

Makes 12

85g dark chocolate
85g plain flour
25g cocoa powder
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
100g golden caster sugar
50g light muscovado sugar
1/2 tsp coffee granules
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp low fat yoghurt (Angela's original recipe uses butter milk but I had more of this to hand)
1 medium egg
100g mayonnaise (I used Sainsburys low fat)
 - Preheat oven to to 180c.
 - Melt chocolate in a heat proof bowl over a pan of boiling water and then leave to cool slightly.
 - Meanwhile, line a 19cm square baking tin with greaseproof paper.
 - Sift together flour, cocoa and bicarbonate of soda in a bowl.
 - Stir both sugars into the melted chocolate and then add the coffee, vanilla and yoghurt. Stir in 1 tbsp of warm water to loosen.
 - Beat in the egg and then stir in the mayonnaise until smooth and glossy.
 - Pour chocolate mixture into the flour and fold until combined.
 - Pour batter into your prepared tin and even out with a spatula then bake for 30 minutes.

You can find Angela Nilsen's original recipe on the BBC Good Food website here.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Lemon Drizzle Cake

The Boy has many culinary vices but he is particularly keen on two things at the moment - sushi and lemon drizzle cake. To appease him, I've been tweaking my recipe in the hope that I will one day get him to citrus nirvana. This is definitely my best batch yet!

Lemon Drizzle Cake
For 8 hungry people

For the cake
225g unsalted butter, softened
225g golden caster sugar
4 medium eggs
zest of two large lemons
225g self raising flour

For the syrup topping
85g caster sugar
juice of 2 lemons

 - Preheat the oven to 180c.
 - Beat butter and sugar together until creamy. This is easiest in a food mixer but if, like me, you don't have the luxury of technology, get your mixing arm out. Just think of the calorie off-set!
 - Mix in the eggs, one at a time. If the mixture begins to curdle, add a tbsp of the flour and continue.
 - Sift in the flour then add the lemon zest and fold the mixture.
 - Line a 8c21cm loaf tin with greaseproof paper and pour the mixture in, leveling with a spatula.
 - Bake for 45 - 50 minutes. A knife or skewer should come out clean with no batter sticking to it.
 - Leave to cool a little while you mix the lemon juice and sugar together to form a syrup. I find that microwaving the lemons for one minute loosens up the juice. Roll them on a hard flat surface before slicing them in two and juicing them.
 - Prick the cake all over with a skewer or fork and pour the syrup over.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Snapshot: Eggs

I’ve been working in my current office for about seven months and in that time, two trends have been established. The first is cycling – I’ve been cycling the eight miles two and from work at least once a week since I started and gradually my colleagues have started to follow suit. The second, and more recent, is chickens. First one and then another of my colleagues has started to keep chooks in their back gardens. Office banter has turned to brooding conversations about poultry rearing. I must admit that I’m slightly jealous – if we had a garden, I’d love to have a few chickens.

Consequently, I’ve been given lots of gorgeous chicken eggs from home nurtured happy hens. Yesterday, a plea went out from our administrator who was overrun with eggs. Naturally, I volunteered to give them a good home and was presented with nine beautiful eggs (about two days of laying for her five hens).

As luck would have it, The Boy is finishing a secondment and needs to bring in the customary leaving cakes for his team so I got my baking cap on. Nine eggs turned into dinner (two fried eggs on toast), brownies, cookies and a lemon drizzle loaf.

Recipes to follow! If you're interested in rehoming ex-battery hens, please contact the British Hen Welfare Trust.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Spring-time Minestrone

We love our fresh veggies. Our fridge is testament to this and was looking rather full when I opened it yesterday evening. Much as I love them, vegetables have a tendency to go off all at once so I needed a plan for using some of them up.

Having changed jobs just over six months ago, I’m now working in a small town in Somerset. Although I don’t miss the lengthy commute, I do sometimes miss the sights and sounds of the city. Namely, being able to buy my lunch, if I so choose, from a variety of yummy places right on my doorstep. Now, I take my lunch every day and try to ring the changes to keep it interesting. Soup is a popular choice because it’s pretty easy to bung everything in a pot of an evening and simmer it into something tasty.

Now that the sunny Spring weather seems to have subsided into April showers, I looked in the fridge and I saw soup. Now, this might not be a very authentic recipe; advance apologies to all the Nonna’s out there!

I like to use up as much of my veggies as possible and like to cook up the broccoli stem which some people tend to discard without thinking. True enough, it can be a little tougher that the florets but it’s still very tasty. Try it finely diced in soups as a flavoursome filler to make it go further. I’ve had this for my lunch today and it’s a good one bowl meal; the spaghetti means that I don’t feel the need to have bread with it. It's a pretty cheap, quick and easy recipe. The whole thing takes just over half an hour to make, minus the chopping.

Spring-time Minestrone soup
Serves 4

1 onion, diced
1 small swede (or half a large one), diced
1 carrot, diced
2 stick of celery, diced
Stem of 1 head of broccoli, diced
1 red pepper, diced
Half a savoy cabbage, finely shredded
50g spaghetti
800ml vegetable (or chicken) stock
2 tbsp tomato pureé
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped/crushed
1 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 bay leaf
Sunflower or olive oil

- Gently sweat the onion, swede, celery and carrot in a little sunflower oil over a low heat for 15 minutes or so until tender and sweet.
- Add the broccoli stem and garlic and sweat for a further 5 minutes.
- Add the pepper. Add the tomato pureé to the stock and stir until combined then add to the pan.
- Add the herbs. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 – 15 minutes.
- Break the spaghetti and cut the cabbage so that it is in bite-sized lengths and add to the pan.
- Cook for a further 5 minutes until the spaghetti and cabbage are tender.
- Serve with shavings of parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil.

Tip: to make this gluten-free, simply substitute the spaghetti for rice. You can also add cannellini or borlotti beans if you want to make it even more filling. This recipe is vegetarian (if you go for a vegetarian hard cheese when serving) but bacon or pancetta can be added at the start for a meaty flavour.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Love Food Spring Festival

Left to Right: Chocolate & Raspberry Cake, The Festival Hall, Vegetables from the travelling grocer.

This weekend is Bristol very own Love Food's Spring Festival at Brunel's Old Station. We trekked along
today with a few friends to see it in all it's colourful glory. True to form, they've gone to town on the bunting.

I didn't have time to check out the Cookery School that was running but it did running list looked really interesting with chefs from Bristol's Lido making an appearance. I did get a chance to grab a quick Mexican quesadilla, packed full of organic black bean salsa, guacamole and cheese as well as a 'Flu Buster' juice from Blue Juice. The quesadilla was to die for (if a little messy) though the juice was a bit too heavy on the ginger for my tastes. After a quick trawl of the stalls, The Great Cake Café (who don't seem to be online?) provided me with a cup of Earl Grey and a raspberry and chocolate cake.

The Love Food Spring Festival is on at Brunels Old Station on Saturday 26th and Sunday 27th March 2011. Entry is free and there are plenty of places to eat and drink as well as stalls selling all sorts of foodie goodies.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Snapshot: Miso

Returning from London after a fun weekend, we decided to grab a snack from Yo! Sushi (The Boy's current obsession) while passing through London Paddington. Among other delights, we picked up a miso soup. Got to love the packaging!

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Hot Cross Buns

 If you have no daughters, give them to your sons...

How early is too early? The Christmas-related grumbles start earlier every year. Easter may still be over a month away but it seems like the supermarkets cleared out the mince pies and Christmas decorations and substituted them with hot cross buns and Easter eggs. I baulked at the produce on show at first but I couldn’t resist the sweetly spice allure of hot cross buns for long. My local supermarkets have been particularly sneaky recently as they were offering two packs of six store-baked buns for £1 for a while and have now deviously reduced the packs to four while still keeping their ‘bargain’ deal the same. No where near two a penny!

Hot cross buns are traditionally eaten on or around Good Friday with the cross on the top of the bun harking back to the cross of the Crucifixion. Some believe that hot cross buns predate Christianity as the Saxons ate a cross adorned bun in honour of the goddess Eostre. You can read more into their complicated history here if you're curious. Either way, there are a surprising amount of superstitions surrounding these unassuming baps of lovelyness which I was unaware of until now. Sharing a hot cross bun can apparently ensure friendship for the forthcoming year while taking one to sea can guard you from ship wreak. Maybe this is why the Pitt Rivers Museum has seen fit to archive one in their collection which is now over eighty years old!

My memories of hot cross buns start at infant school with me carefully rolling out a paste to form the white ‘cross’ to go on top. The buns seemed bigger back then (and don’t even get me started on Creme Eggs). I have fond memories, too, of making fragrant yellow Easter biscuits with my Mum, taking great pleasure in using a biscuit cutter with crimped, wavy edges. I have always loved the details! Years later, our after school club made Easter nest cakes with us which were a lot nicer than they sound. Crumbled Shredded Wheat biscuits stuck together with melted milk chocolate and fashioned into a nest shaped to be filled with Cadbury’s Mini Eggs.

Hot cross buns are one of the few Easter-related foods that has continued to jump into my shopping basket (completely of their own accord, of course) since my infancy, through university until now. I haven’t attempted to make them since my early school days so when a friend pointed out a recipe, I thought we should give them a try. They do take some patience as they need two chances to rise and plump up but I think that they were well worth it.

Hot Cross Buns
Makes 12 - 14 buns

375g strong white flour
25g caster sugar
7g fast-action yeast
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
peel of half an orange, zested or finely grated
220ml skimmed milk
1 egg, whisked
60g unsalted butter
100g sultanas, lightly soaked in water or orange juice

For the crosses:
35g plain flour
pinch of baking powder
Honey to glaze

- Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl with the sugar, yeast, salt, orange peel and spices.
- Gently heat the milk with the butter (in the microwave or on the hob) on a low heat until melted and the milk is just warm. Whisk the egg into the mixture.
- Make a well in the centre of the flour and add the milk mixture. Mix well until it comes together as a dough.
- Knead for 10 minutes until smooth and elastic.
- Cover in a little sunflower oil, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place for one hour or until doubled in size.
- Knock back the dough and knead in the sultanas so that they are evenly mixed into the dough.
- Divide into balls just larger than golf balls then cuddle them up on a lightly greased baking tray so that they are just touching. Cover again and leave to rise for 30 minutes - they should join up as they rise.
- Meanwhile, mix the crosses mixture with 3 tsp water. Spoon into a piping bag and pipe a cross on to each one once they have risen.
- Bake for 15 minutes at 180c or until golden. They should sound hollow when tapped.
- Leave to cool then brush with warmed honey (I zap it in the microwave for a few seconds until its runny) to glaze.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Snapshot: Steak

Sometimes, you've just got to have steak. Today is one of those days.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Review: The Mission, Bristol

Five Minute Photoshop Time! Mission comes to Park Street

I miss Oxford. Having spent several happy gastronomic, dance-able and stressed-out university years there, am sometimes hit with a wave of nostalgia for the spires, the pretentious rah’s and the various lovely eateries.

One of my favourites finds of my final year was a small but perfectly formed quick-fire Tex Mex place called The Mission. It was an instant hit with local and students (of both the Colleges and Brookes) alike due to their glorious, instant gratification burritos. Customers were invited to mix it up and personalise their foil wrapped goodies - pick a meat: chicken, steak, carnitas (pork) or vegetables then sauce it up with salsas, rice or sour cream. Think Subway but, well, nicer! All come in at under £6 if you don't include any extras. Bargain!

The newest branch of The Mission is now open at 62 Park Street, Bristol, BS1 5JN. I'll be checking it out very soon!

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Fat Tuesday

Awesome pancake flipping robot

 It's Shrove Tuesday, also known as Pancake Day! Believe it or not, our friends across the Pond call it Fat Tuesday. Lovely! Traditionally, it was a way to use up perishables before Lent, the season of fasting. We seem to be pretty obsessed with the lovely 2D cakey-things (my facebook stream is currently 2:1 pancake-related statuses and photos!) so much so that we're teaching robots to make them (above - though the pancakes look a little rank)  and master that all important flip (have a look here - patience need required).

I like the 'traditional' thin-ish crêpe-style pancakes on Pancake Day though I tend to make thicker, doughier Scotch pancakes the rest of the time. So far, we've had two lots of pancakes in the last three days (awesome) and the unwritten rule is that I make the batter and The Boy does the forming/frying/flipping side of things.

My recipe is so simple that it barely counts as a 'recipe':

Mix together:
125g plain flour
1 egg
Half pint milk

We tend to eat them hot out of the pan with a running selection of jams, honey or lemon and sugar though Nutella (other chocolate spread brands available) is the bees knees - so much so that we don't tend to keep it in the house for our own health. Savory pancakes cakes can be fun too; I have memories of my parents feeding me pancakes stuffed with tuna and sweetcorn or cheese. I have a bit of a craving for stilton and caramalised onions which I think could be a bit of a winner. Adding the finely grated zest of half a lemon can add some zing to your cake whether it be sweet or savory and I'd recommend mixing up your batter in a jug rather than a bowl so that it's easy to get the batter to the pan. Beware though; make sure you rinse or wash up immediately after as pancake batter goes from liquid to irritating dried-on solid very quickly.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Irate cake

Can you guess what it is yet?

Take a look at the image above. Any smartphone users out there may find it familiar... One of my friends showed her love and affection to her boyfriend on his birthday by making him an 'Angry Birds' cake complete with complete with Tunnock's wooden beams and Battenberg stone pillars. Amazing! Each individual bird or evil pig was hand crafted from coloured icing and marzipan. He was suitably impressed.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Solitary Sandwich

Quite surprising - Starbuck's Roasted Chicken and Herb Mayo Sandwich

While away at a tradeshow for a few days, I was given the task of exploring a new and unfamiliar exhibition centre from an exhibitor point of view. Me being me, my primary objective was to scope out feasible food joints for easy refuelling during our (sometimes) gruelling professional performance.

You’d think that our ‘National Exhibition Centre’ (Birmingham’s NEC) would offer a brief representation of our nation’s culinary tastes but I wandered around lost and disappointed. I would feel very sad the summation of our country’s grub was a sweaty Subway, a busy Starbucks and a Martin’s newsagent. The venue itself was pretty good for us as exhibitors with free parking and relatively easy way-finding both inside and out. Our prayers were answered when a lovely lady (who worked for the organisers) bestowed a timely cuppa and a handmade chicken sandwich while we were building our stand. How they managed to get around the usual H&S mumbo-jumbo, I do not know.

I love days out of the office. This is probably because I spent the vast majority of my professional time behind a paper-strewn desk plugged into a computer or responding to telephone queries. I like seeing new places, meeting new people and eating new food. I’ve enjoyed everything from black tie silver service soirées in Oxbridge colleges to a fragrant curry with colleagues in Bedford.

By the time my first fleeting lunch break opportunity materialised, I was as much in need of mental respite as I was in need of sustenance. My role at events like these is to be a friendly face, subtle sales person, efficient organiser, neat personification of the company and general fountain of knowledge. Needless to say that this is pretty draining – both physically and mentally. So I wandered around in a bit of a daze for a slice of nutrition and a quiet place to sit. Unfortunately, neither was forthcoming. Eventually, I found myself loitering in the mammoth queue for Starbucks and was overjoyed (in my desperate event-addled state) to see a sandwich in their fridge which looked tasty and relatively healthy.

I decided to try a chicken sandwich with herb mayonnaise which looked promising. I find ready-made sandwiches to be a bit of a disappointment usually – soggy, salty and lacking in filling. But this was pretty good. It tasted fresh and had more flavour than your average packaged sandwich.

Shame that the same can’t be said for the Subway sarnie that I picked up in a dash the following day. Starbucks were completely out of sandwiches and Panini’s (what’s the plural of Panini? Paninies? Paninii?), which is generally a good sign, so I swung past Subway out of desperation. It was not good.

Chocolate Orange Torte

Sometimes, just sometimes, you need to wave bye-bye to a healthy diet and indulge in a tasty (and terribly bad for you) dessert. I had an occasion, now all I needed was some afters. I perused my recipe book (where I scribble down ideas and tried-and-tested recipes) for something that wouldn't be too heavy or rich but still hit the spot. I did my very best to avoid chocolate but the inevitable happened...

Chocolate Orange Torte
(Makes around 12 ramekins)

250g dark chocolate
600ml carton double cream
2 large oranges
4 tbsp, or to taste, of Cointreau
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp demarera sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon

- Break up the chocolate and put into a glass bowl with about a quarter of the cream. Melt over a pan of boiling water on a low heat.
- Zest or grate the skin of the oranges while melting the butter and sugar gently together in a separate pan. Be sure to avoid the white pith which will be bitter. Add the zest to the butter and sugar then leave to simmer gently, stiring occasionally for five minutes to soften.
- Meanwhile, segment the oranges (have a look at this video if you don't know how) and place a slice or two into the bottom of each ramekin. Add a splash of Cointreau to each one if you're feeling particularly wicked.
- By now, your chocolate should be melting nicely. Add the caramalised orange peel, give it a stir and then leave to cool to body temperature.
- Pop the cream into an electric mixer with a whisk attachment on and whisk to soft peaks. If you don't have an electric mixer (I was borrowing one for this), get your whisking arm out!
- Gently fold the chocolate mixture into the cream until combined then share out between the ramekins.
- Leave in the fridge for a few hours (or ideally overnight) to firm up. Serve with chocolate shavings.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Loose Tea or Not Loose Tea....?

One hundred and sixty five MILLION cups of tea are drunk in the UK alone everyday says the UK Tea Council and I would hazard a guess that the majority of those are made with tea bags. They something of a nebulous history but some reports (including this one) claim that an unknown tea exporter from China sent a silk bag of sample tea leaves to New York coffee merchant, Thomas Sullivan in the early 1900's. He unknowingly brewed the tea leaves in the bag and the rest, as they say, is history. Sullivan went on to patent the 'tea bag' in 1904.

Lahloo Tea have kindly sent me a Tovolo Tea Infuser to try out along with their own blend of breakfast tea in an attempt to get me to ditch tea bags for good. I don't drink that much tea compared to a lot of people I know but I savour the cups that I do have. I've only drunk loose leaves in a tea pot and have generally found the whole thing to be a bit of a faff so the elegant Tovolo was a nice change for a single cup.

Hastily removing my treasure from its careful wrapping, I put the kettle on to boil and read the instructions. The Tovolo infuser is made of three parts - a heat-resistant polycarbonate handle, stainless steel perforated infuser and matching polycarbonate stand.  The handle and infuser push together and pull apart for easy filling and Lahloo recommend using one teaspoon of loose leaves per cup which are brewed for three to four minutes.  
The Tovolo doing its stuff

While I was brewing the loose leaves, I also put on a cup of my usual tipple - PG Tip Pyramid bags (our standard on The Boy's insistence). The normal tea did brew darker and had more of a noticable caffeine 'kick' though the loose leaves tasted a lot fresher and had a more complex flavour.

Left - Lahloo loose tea
Right - PG Tips Pyramid Bag
 When it comes to removing the leaves when you've finished brewing, the infuser sits in its stand which adds as a handy drip-catcher. No puddles of tea on the counter top or mad dashes for the bin with your tea bag in hand.

A small thing but Which? found that, though they are accepted by the majority of councils as compostable waste, most tea bags aren't 100% biodegradable. The loose leaves can be infused several times (though I haven't had a chance to test this out yet) before being disposed of and can be composted. It looks like less waste to my untrained eye as well.

You can buy the lovely Tovolo tea infuser from Lahloo tea. It retails at £12.50 and is available in three colours.
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