Tuesday, 27 July 2010

How I Used up Some Frozen Cranberries

It's been a while since I posted, I know.

Last week we shut the restaurant in order to go on our summer holiday. We enjoyed a lovely four day trip to York, using our English Hertiage membership to pass the time in Castles, Abbeys and any other historical site we could get into. I think we managed to see 14 sites in 5 days - not bad!
Of course, castle fatique set in and now I can't bear the idea of seeing another ruin for at least a month. Anyway, more on all of that to come another time.

Since we got home, we have had plenty to do - a family party to attend, 20 tablecloths and 60 restaurant napkins to iron and a restaurant to restock and prepare, ready for tomorrow.
Typically, I have also had a cold.

Over the last few years, it's been great fun to see certain bakery items come into fashion. At the moment it seems to be Whoopie Pies. I look forward to trying to make them one day, probably when they are out of fashion. The idea of a marshmallow style icing is quite exciting to me, but I must admit I am a fiend for butter icing, which is why the cupcake trend appealed to me so much. There's nothing like a large swirl of brightly coloured butter icing to go with a morning cup of coffee a few times a week.

Of course, before these delights came the Macaron. I remember being in Paris a few years ago and pressing my nose as hard into the window of Laduree's as I possibly could to see the most vivid sugar rainbow you could ever imagine. Every flavour imaginable has the most incredible colour to match it. I wish I could find a recipe book to understand how the macaron is flavoured.

A few days before we left, I was searching through the freezer for a block of butter to make galettes with and I found 2 bags of frozen cranberries. Isn't it annoying how you can only find them fresh during the run up to Christmas? I know I'd use them all year round if I could. I love how versatile they are. Most of all I love the way their hollow bellies 'pop' during cooking. And the colour. WOW.

My thoughts turned to yet another Nigella recipe (I love her, what else can I say?). This time, cranberry curd was on the cards. Before I allowed myself to make it, I had to come up with a way to use it other than on toast, otherwise it'd end up at the back of the fridge with the Hellmans and a jar of pepperdews.

Macarons almost immediately sprang to mind as they need a slightly thick filling and I set about checking I had all the necessary ingredients. I did! Yay! Time to get cooking.

Cranberry Curd (from How to be a Domestic Godess)

250g cranberries
100ml water
50g unsalted butter
250g caster sugar
3 large eggs

Place the cranberries and water in a saucepan, cover and cook on a low heat until tender and popped. Pass the cranberries through a sieve and put the puree back to the saucepan.
Add the butter and sugar, melting them gently.
Beat the eggs in a bowl and sieve them into the saucepan. Stir the curd constantly over a medium heat until it has thickened. It should coat the back of a spoon. Let it cool a little before spooning it into 2 250ml jars. Store in the fridge.


125g ground almonds
225g icing sugar
4 medium egg whites
a pinch of cream of tartar
25g caster sugar
Red food colouring

Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4.
Sift the icing sugar and ground almonds onto a piece of baking parchment and then sift again.
Whisk the egg whites in a large bowl until just foamy and then add the cream of tartar and whisk to soft peaks.
Reduce the speed and add the caster sugar before whisking until the egg whites are at stiff peaks. Add a couple of drops of food colouring - once again, professional gels are best for a more intense colour.
Using a metal spoon, fold in the dry ingredients. The mixture should be smooth and shiny.
Place a sheet of baking parchment onto a baking tray and using a 1cm nozzle on a piping bag, pipe the mixture on top. The macarons should be no more than 2cm in diameter. Be sure to leave  an inch between each one. Tap the tray from underneath to flatten the macarons slightly. Leave the macaron trays on the side for 15mins so that they develop a skin.
Bake in the centre of the oven for 15mins, leaving the oven door slightly ajar to allow steam to escape as they cook.
They should rise from the bases to form a foot and be crisp and firm on top.
As soon as you remove them from the oven, run a little cold water underneath the baking parchment onto the baking tray. This will make it easier to remove them from the parchment. Allow them 3mins to cool slighty before you transfer them to a cooling rack.
Leave until completely cold andthen sandwich with the filling, using a good amount so as to be able to see a little of it.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

An Idea for Blackcurrants and How Our Arms Got Covered in Scratches


A restaurant enjoys many different types of people from all walks of life. We are lucky enough to have many regulars that we can 'swap trades' with.

A few weeks ago, one of our most regular of regulars brought a large group of friends for a meal and during the course of the evening, L got chatting to one couple in particular about travelling in their favourite country - Italy!

As they discussed their mutual passion, it transpired that Mr and Mrs M were off on a five week tour of Europe - lucky for some - and that they had a large garden with a vegetable plot bursting with summer fruits that were ripe for the picking.

One invitation and a few days later we found ourselves at their front door with plastic tubs and bags in hand ready to start picking. By the end of a fun half an hour plucking gooseberries from their branches, our arms were truely covered in scratches. Even the baby had a go, although the one that she did manage to help herself to went straight into her mouth. She made quite short work of the tart berrys flesh with a rather puckered look on her face the whole time.

Mrs M has (thankfully) already picked the blackcurrants and we were more than happy to relieve of them too.

Back at home, and after a good half an hour washing and destalking the fruits, I finally got around to making a little something for us at home before the rest of the harvest made its way to the restaurant.

Having spent so long preparing the berries that morning, a quick and hastle free recipe was definitely required.

This viscous, deep purple cordial is the result of a meer 5 minutes over the stove and a further hour or two of infusing.

Lemongrass Ribena

500g blackcurrants
2 finely chopped stalks of lemon grass
300g caster sugar

Place the currants and lemonsgrass in a pan with 400ml water.
Heat gently, bringing to a simmer and crush the fruit as best you can using a potato masher.
Boil for one minute only before covering and leaving to infuse for up to two hours.
Add the sugar and place the pan back over a low heat. Gently stir to dissolve.
Boil very briefly before straining the mixture through a sieve into a bowl. Use a ladle to push as much of the juice through as possible.
The cordial is ready to use straight away and will keep chilled for one month or in the freezer (frozen in small batches) for up to three months.
Dilute to taste.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Deepest, Darkest Brownies for a Saturday Night

Last Friday, it seemed no one could get enough of the desserts at the restaurant - we ran out of the June special - a layered fool of gooseberries, elderflower and vanilla - and of the dreaded chocolate cake as well. Of course, I don't mean the chocolate cake is awful in any way. I just have a teeny-weeny problem with it because it is the only food in the whole restaurant that we buy in and this despresses me. I really want to do EVERYTHING myself. My constant complaints that the chocolate cake is not homemade are prehaps finally wearing L down and he has started to consider the idea of a homemade brownie on the dessert list. I'd do a chocolate cake, but they don't stay moist for long and I'm convinced that a brownie would be far more popular and I'd be able to play around with fruit and nut flavour combinations.

I love this recipe. It's a Jamie Oliver one. I don't really rate him as a baker - not everyone can just throw some flour, sugar, butter and eggs into a KitchenAid alla Nigella, and have a cake ready half an hour later - so I was surprised when this recipe worked. On Saturday evening, our customers enjoyed a Macadamia and Sour Cherry Chocolate Brownie that was as dense and moist as a wet teabag (sounds pleasant doesn't it?) and as rich and dark as a really good espresso. We served a small stack of them with some of my (homemade) vanilla ice cream.  

Chocolate Brownies (makes enough for 10 people)
250g unsalted butter
200g dark chocolate, broken into pieces - 70% cocoa solids is best
150g dried sour cherries
150g macadamia nuts
80g cocoa powder, sifted
65g plain flour, sifted
1 tsp baking powder
350g golden caster sugar
4 large free range eggs
1 zested orange
Preheat your oven to 180C/gas mark 4.
Line the base of a 30cm baking tin or brownie tray with greaseproof paper.
In a large bowl over simmering water, melt the butter and chocolate together until smooth, stirring occasionally.
Add the cherries, nuts and orange zest and mix in well.
In a separate bowl, mix together the cocoa, flour, baking powder and sugar.
Add the dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture and stir together well.
Lightly beat the eggs in another bowl and mix into the chocolate mixture until you have a silky consistency.
Pour the borwnie mix into the prepared baking tray and place into the oven for around 30mins.
Brownies don't like being overcooked so don't worry if a cake skewer doesn't come out clean. They should be springy on the outside with a few cracks, but still slightly gooey in the middle.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tray.
When you are ready to serve, transfer them to a board and cut into little stackable squares.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Cheey Feet for a Momentous Occasion

This week has felt incredibly busy with appointments and tea parties squeezed alongside restaurant deliveries and of course, football matches.

My mother and sister both celebrated birthdays and so I brought out the baking trays for cake and tea on two occasions this week. I'm not going to give away the recipes (just yet!) but have decided it is necessary to tempt you with some photos and prove that I have been baking.

Peach and poppy seed cupcakes with peach buttercream for mummy were all gobbled up in an instant.

For E, I decided to continue along the healthy cake path and make fondant fancies with a carrot, courgette and orange sponge. Seriously moist and tasty. Three days later it has, if anything, improved.

On my mother's birthday, I'd come up with a fun foodie way to celebrate Wimbledon having seen a picture of an ice cream cone with a tennis ball in it (can you guess what I was going to make yet?). I made half of it and stored it away ready for the next day to create the second part of the dish.
In true show-stealing style, M decided that this would be the day she took her first step. Three days later, she took 3 more and today another little one! I wonder if she'll be on her feet in time for her birthday party in mid-august. I'll be sending her out with a tray and drinks for everyone. What? She's got to learn how to waitress for the restaurant sooner or later.
Such exciting times call for a little celebration and naturally one that is edible.
How appropriate that I have accquired my mother's feet shaped cookie cutters. My thought immediately turned to one of Nigella's recipes that I haev tinkered with in the past. Sorry N - but yours were just a little too cheesy for me. Here is my adaptation of Nigella Lawson's 'Cheesy Feet'.

75g grated Cheddar cheese
25g grated Parmesan
25g soft butter
50g plain flour
25g wholemeal flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp paprika

Preheat oven to gas mark 6 or 200C and line a baking tray with baking paper.
In a medium sized bowl, rub the butter into the flours, baking powder and paprika until they begin to come together.
Add the cheeses and rub in a little more before bringing the mixture together to form a dough.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to 5mm thick and cut out your desired shapes until you've used up all of the dough.
Transfer your shapes carefully onto the baking sheet and place in the fridge for 5mins of until you want to cook them. This will stop them from spreading in the oven.
Cook for about 8mins until golden. Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack to crisp up.