Tray to go

September 26, 2013

traybake 003

Tomorrow I’m attending my first Macmillan Coffee Morning after a friend’s mum kindly invited me. While I like to think she asked me because of my Dorothy Parker-like party wit, I suspect she knew I would offer to make something. Fortunately, since my oven is on the blink, she opted for a traybake and I have been experimenting for the last few weeks.

I love traybakes yet rarely make them. They have a slightly trashy appeal, probably because they often use condensed milk and sometimes don’t even require any cooking. My favourite is a chocolate and mint one they serve at the garden centre. When I trawled the internet looking for ideas, traybakes appear to often be lumped with brownies. I’m not keen on the latter. They taste to me like stale, flat cakes.

Asking people for ideas is always preferable to the internet since you can be certain they have made them with success. My friend Claire came up trumps with a ‘family favourite’. This was music to my foodie ears since those two words mean a recipe is quick, easy and delicious. It was for lemon and coconut traybake. I used lime instead because I had a couple hanging about the fruit bowl. You could use either or both. It was very rich but totally delicious and so easy to remember as a recipe.

Another friend kindly lent me the Macmillan baking book and Aline Hember’s apricot, coconut and chocolate traybake was a hit. It used much the same method as Claire’s. After taste-testing both in the office, I plumped for the Macmillan recipe but made it with dried cherries instead.

So here are both recipes. They are so quick to make but give as much satisfaction as a home-made cake you laboured hours over. Good luck to everyone taking part in the coffee mornings and if you feel you missed out, maybe get involved next year. You’ve got 12 months to try a lot of cakes out…

Chocolate, cherry & coconut traybake

200g digestive biscuits (about half a big pack)

100g dessicated coconut

175g chopped, dried cherries

397g tin condensed milk

100g butter

150g dark chocolate

Crush the biscuits with your hands until mostly crumbs and small chunks. Stir in the cherries and coconut. Melt the condensed milk with the butter until well mixed and add to the dry ingredients.

Press into a swiss roll tin lined with foil or greaseproof paper. This is the only part of the recipe where it is worth taking a bit of time to make the base as level as possible and ensure it goes right into the edges – this way you will get neater squares.

Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a small pan of barely simmering water (or do in microwave, it’s apparently foolproof but I don’t have one). Spread over the top of the traybake and place in the fridge until set. Cut into squares.

Lemon & coconut traybake

One packet of rich tea biscuits, crushed as before

100g dessicated coconut

Grated rind of a lemon, two limes, or one of each. Save the juice.

397g tin condensed milk

100g butter

About 200g icing sugar

Mix the biscuits and coconut with the lemon rind. Melt the condensed milk and butter until thoroughly blended. Mix well into the dry ingredients and press into a swiss roll tin as above. Chill.

Mix the remaining lemon juice with the icing sugar, adding a little water from the kettle if you need to. You want a consistency about the same as golden syrup. Spread over the top of the traybake. If you have any coconut left, toast it and sprinkle on top.

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My bloody Valentine

February 8, 2013

Eliza 18 weeks 020

Mr Scrumptious scoffs when I tell him that I don’t want flowers for Valentine’s Day because of the guilt of how much they cost. And yet he agrees with me that a big bowl of citrus fruit is just as pleasing as a bunch of blooms on the table.

Regular readers may recall that one of my first blogs three years ago concerned my favourite fruit – the blood orange. Although, I note with sadness that in supermarkets they tend to be called ruby or blush now. Is it because they don’t actually contain blood? Or is it just that blood is not considered something we want to see in the name of a foodstuff? I don’t hear anyone referring to a Ruby Mary or Blush Mary cocktail.

So the blood oranges are here for their very short season and I’m easily getting through two a day. I passed a small fruit stall in Shawlands, Glasgow, yesterday and picked up eight for £2 – in Waitrose and Sainsbury you pay double that.

Fellow fans of the blood orange may think this blog’s recipe is a waste of the beautiful fruit which is with is for such a short time but it is even worth making the icing alone which, if the orange is bloody enough inside, takes on a peachy pink hue impossible to create with even the most sophisticated food colourings.

The strawberries taste a bit like the ones you get in Special K red berries and, since orange and strawberries are a match made in heaven, are a lovely topping. Because of the time of year, I used a heart-shaped silicone mould. These don’t require any greasing and give a very even result. It’s the all-in-one method which is easy – the only thing to remember is not to overbeat. Stop whisking or turn of the processor the minute everything is combined evenly.

My fellow foodie friend and former workmate Frank also used to welcome the blood orange season and he and I often rolled one across the desk to one another if the mood took us. He said a quartered blood orange on a white plate could be a ‘sexy dessert’. This enthusiasm in someone of his age was as refreshing as the fruit.

Sadly, this Valentine’s Day I fear foodie Frank will be without his better half Hazel (an actual woman, not a nut) since he is currently working in Abu Dhabi. So this blog is dedicated to them and I hope even if they can’t see each other, they will at least be enjoying the odd blood orange.

Blood orange and strawberry cake

200g each of self-raising flour, soft butter and sugar

3 eggs

zest and juice of two blood oranges

200g icing sugar

freeze-dried strawberries (located in home-baking aisle of supermarket)

Preheat the oven to 180C (170 fan)

Using a hand whisk, beat the flour, butter, sugar and eggs together. Add the zest and juice of one of the oranges and beat for a few seconds more (or put it all in the processor and turn on for about 12 secs). Pour the batter into your tin and bake for about 40 minutes. Remove and allow to cool for 30 minutes in the mould and then turn out and allow to cool completely.

The easiest way to make and pour the icing is to use a jug. Pour the icing sugar in and beat with the juice of an orange until it is of a thick pouring consistency. Drizzle over the cooled cake and sprinkle with the strawberries.

Eliza 18 weeks 016

Smashing orangey bit

May 22, 2012

 
I haven’t blogged for a while since having a bun in the oven has meant I’ve been somewhat off my food and it seemed disingenuous to be writing lovingly about things I’d cooked when the reality was living on Special K and toast.
 
But one thing I haven’t lost my taste for is the delicious combination of feta cheese and either melon or cucumber. I could eat bowls of the stuff, especially with a good scattering of mint. And now that we’re in for a week of sunny weather, it’s the perfect time to start eating more summery dishes. However, we know all too well here in Scotland that one week of sunny weather in May may be all the summer we get. So, this week’s recipe is one which is perfect hot or as a room temperature salad or packed lunch.
 
Don’t get hung up on the measurements but take care with the cinnamon – it can overpower everything. And a word on feta – I recently taste-tested a few from all the main supermarkets and found only a few were palatable. One, from Asda, tasted off and the cheaper ones in the others shops only tasted of salt. Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference was not too bad but the outstanding winner was M&S. Their Greek Feta is creamy, not too salty and perfectly crumbly. It does, however, cost substantially more than the other ones. If you’re really watching the calories leave out the cheese but it is only a small amount and feta is not quite as calorific as other hard cheeses.
 
I happen to love all things orange and the extract of orange or orange oil is always in my cupboard. Don’t be tempted to think a few drops isn’t enough, once cooked the flavour is quite strong. If you can’t get it, zest and orange and add to the marinade.
 
Spiced orange chicken with mint and courgette rice
 
Serves two
 
For the chicken and marinade:
Half tsp each of salt, cumin, ground coriander, cayenne pepper, ground ginger and ground turmeric
Pinch of cinnamon
A few drops of extract of orange
Half a glass of orange juice or one orange squeezed
Three tbsp of olive or vegetable oil
Two chicken breasts
For the rice:
4oz brown or wild rice
One courgette diced
One yellow or orange pepper diced
2-3 spring onions finely sliced
About 3oz feta crumbled and a handful of chopped, fresh mint or parsley (or a mix)
In a bowl large enough to hold the chicken, whisk all the ingredients for the marinade. Lay the chicken in and turn until well coated. Cover with cling film and leave for anything between five minutes and five hours.
When ready to cook, remove from the bowl and place in a 170C oven for about 20-25 minutes, depending on thickness.
Cook the rice according to whichever kind you are using. If using brown, the chicken will cook in the time it takes to boil the rice.
Remove the chicken and allow to rest for at least five minutes. Mix the rice with vegetables and add the feta and chopped herbs.
Slice the chicken thinly and serve on top.
 
This can all be made in advance. If serving as a cold dish, add some finely chopped cucumber to the rice just before serving.
 

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Ripe to buy

April 12, 2012

It’s been almost two years since I started this blog and although I don’t have as much time to do it as I used to, I still look forward to every one with relish (or chutney, ha ha). I knew it was two years because of the mango season – the first blog I ever did was You Know When You’ve Been Mangoed and the recipe was a mango salsa.

Mangoes have been at their best for the last few weeks and my local fruit and veg shop had some half-price this week because they were so ripe. Like tomatoes, this is the best time to buy them for using immediately. We’ve had smoothies for the last few days and the ones I used today were so ripe you could just peel the skin off. If you’re hacking away, the mango isn’t ripe enough to eat.

I don’t really favour the hedgehog method for chopping a mango since I always seem to waste a lot of flesh. The best way is to first make sure you have a ripe mango by pressing gently. It should leave a soft indent. The unpeeled fruit should also have a sweet, syrupy smell. Then, just slice of large slices around the stone and run your knife as close to the skin as possible to remove the flesh. There will be some left around the stone you can also slice off carefully.

This recipe uses a basic tiramisu principle for the mousse which can be adapted for many fruits – Nigella makes something called Barbados cream which uses rum and lime. I love any mousse but hate using gelatine so this is perfect because it gives a lovely set with just the right amount of wobble. It’s an ideal mousse to make in advance and an easy recipe to remember since for two people you pretty much use two of everything.

The little spicy chocolate biscuits are optional, but delicious. Those little ginger thins would be nice too.

Mango mousse with little spicy chocolate biscuits

Serves two or three

Two mangoes, prepared as above and blended to a smooth pulp

Two eggs, separated with the yolk going into the largest bowl you have

Two tablespoons of caster sugar

2-4 fluid ounces of double or whipping cream, depending on how creamy you like mousses (you can omit this for a very light mousse)

Using an electric whisk, whip the egg whites in a bowl to soft peaks, then the cream in another bowl to soft peaks, and the yolk and sugar until pale and creamy in another bowl. If you do it in this order, you won’t have to clean your whisk.

Mix the pureed mango into the egg yolk and sugar. Add the cream and fold in gently. Add a spoonful of the egg white and mix in briskly then fold in the rest using a large metal spoon. Take your time. Pile into two or three wine glasses and chill for at least two hours (overnight is fine).

Little spicy chocolate biscuits

Preheat the oven to 180C (170C for fan ovens)

4oz butter at room temperature

2oz caster or light brown sugar

tsp ground ginger (or chopped stem ginger should you have a jar lurking in the cupboard – the syrup is also nice drizzled over the mousse)

pinch salt

pinch chilli powder or black pepper if you’re a spice wimp

2oz cocoa

4oz plain flour

Cream the butter, sugar, ginger and spices. Stir in the cocoa and then add the flour gradually until you have a sticky dough. You can either roll it out and cut out shapes or just into a sausage and the slice thinly on the diagonal. Both work fine. Place on a baking tray and bake for 10-15 minutes until just beginning to crack. Remove and allow to cool. They will become crunchy and brittle on cooling. Serve with the mousse. They also taste great with vanilla ice cream.

The Bake Group

February 18, 2012

A few years ago it was book clubs, following on from the success of Channel 4’s excellent dark comedy The Book Group. But there’s a new trend emerging… baking clubs and groups. Following on from the success of The Great British Bake-off and a general resurgence of interest in home-baking more and more people are going back to basics and turning out their own cakes and treats in the comfort of their own home. This may be to do with the recession, although with the price of cake ingredients I’d be surprised if you save a lot of money. The difference, of course, is the taste. While shop-bought cakes have come on in leaps and bounds over the past 10 years, nothing can come close to a home-made cake.

One group who agrees with this is The Clandestine Cake Club, an organisation of hardline home-baking lovers who get together to sample members’ recipes. But you can forget any cupcakes, traybakes or muffins… we are talking way more traditional than that. Think coffee and walnut cake, Swiss roll, Victoria sponge and possibly a fruit loaf.

Cupcakes have had their day. For a start, there are almost always a triumph of design over taste. Then there is the difficulty of eating them because they are frankly too big and too sickly. The only really nice one I had was as a gift from a former colleague – it had a surprise fruit injection in the sponge which transformed it. Traybakes have their place for feeding a crowd with treats and muffins can be nice but the home-made cakes favoured by the CCC have much to be said for them.

Regular readers will know my favourite is a lemon cake but gently spiced home-made cakes come a close second simply because they are so good with a cup of tea in the afternoon. This week’s recipe falls into that category and would probably be accepted by the CCC. A kind colleague brought me some to try and I made it this weekend. Her elderly mother lived with a family in the States in the 1960s and they told her how to make it. She has now passed it to her daughter and once you have made it you’ll be passing it on as well because it’s such an easy recipe to make.

While perfect with a cuppa, it would not shame any dinner party as dessert with maybe a toffee sauce and some ice cream.

Jewish Apple Cake

8oz self-raising flour

8oz demerera or light brown sugar

4tsp cinnamon

pinch salt

2 eggs

6 fluid oz sunflower oil

2tsp vanilla extract

3 eating apples, peeled, cored and chopped into pieces about the size of a hazelnut

10z walnuts, chopped

Preheat the oven to 180C (fan oven 170c) and grease and line a loaf tin.

Mix the dry ingredients (apart from the walnuts and apple) together. Mix in the eggs, oil and vanilla and then fold in the apples and walnut. It’s a fairly stiff mixture and it will look like you have too much apple. Pile into the tin and bake for about 40mins. The cake is ready when a skewer comes out clean.

Soothe operators

December 7, 2011

With the cold snap now upon us, it’s finally time to reveal the results of my not very scientific survey on top comfort foods. After several months of asking friends, both real and on facebook, colleagues, family and in some cases, just random people I meet, I can can reveal what we all like to eat when we need more than just fuel.

There were a few surprises, such as only one person choosing chocolate. And knowing my sister as I do, we’re not talking 70% cocoa solids here, it’s Giant Buttons all the way. Another relation chose “good wine and cheese” which was the most high-brow answer I got.

There were a few patterns – comfort food seems often to hark back to our childhood and many of the foods were almost retro. And despite the array of dishes chosen, there was a recurring theme of mince, cheese and salt.

Macaroni cheese was by far the most popular choice, the stodgier the better most people said. Various mince dishes, from mince and tatties to cottage pie to cheesy mince (don’t scoff, it’s a sublime mix of mince, cheese and pasta – what’s not to like?). There was one request for spag bol.

Soup also scored highly, either ‘mum’s ham’ or Heinz tomato, which I know is what a lot of people take when they are ill.

Surprisingly, there were no takers for anything sweet – although a crumble with custard features high on my list. I also expected to see bacon, chicken soup and toast on the lists but they never appeared.

When it comes to savoury comfort food, my choice would nearly always be medium boiled eggs mashed up in a cup with lots of salt and pepper and butter and some thing toast. It’s what my mum used to make if I was ill and even the smell makes me feel a bit better.

Another choice would be this week’s recipe. Comfort food is something I associate with eating alone but in this case, I would probably only make it for two or more. Even making a risotto is soothing and the end results is hot, creamy but not sickly, salty and filling. The northern Italians have a fantastic homely dish you never see on menus because it’s considered such a basic dish – risi e bisi, basically risotto with ham and peas. It ticks all the boxes when it comes to comfort food and is almost just the rice version of pea and ham soup. If you have foodie pals, don’t be shy in asking them for some home-made chicken stock – I always have loads and am happy to donate a bag to a good cause such as making risotto. Otherwise, the liquid concentrates you buy in supermarkets are your best bet.

Making too much risotto is a good idea because the following day you can make arancini – little risotto balls to have as a snack. Just take the leftover risotto from the fridge and, with wet hands, form into balls just small than a golf ball. You can do the whole milk-egg-breadcrumb thing or, if like me you think life’s too short for that, just roll them in a little wholemeal flour or polenta and fry gently until browned all over. If you’re feeling very adventurous, stick a cube of cheese or a piece of fried mushroom or pepper in the middle.

My only other tip for risotto is a Jamie Oliver one – when you think it’s almost ready, take it off the heat, add a knob of butter and put the lid on for five minutes until it ‘settles’. This really makes a huge difference.

Leek, lemon and rocket risotto

Serves two generously with leftovers

One leek, finely chopped

Two cloves of garlic, smashed

About 250g risotto rice

Grated zest of one lemon and the juice

About a tsp of fresh chopped rosemary

Two pints of chicken stock, which you should have simmering on the hob before you start

2-3oz fresh parmesan, grated

Knob of butter and salt and pepper

Small bag of rocket

In a large saute pan or the heaviest pan you have that has a lid, heat about 2tbsp olive oil and add a tsp of butter. Add the leeks and garlic and cook gently for about 10 minutes, stirring often. The leeks should not brown. Add salt and pepper.

Add the rice and cook, stirring, for a few minutes until it begins to ‘sigh’  – it makes a slightly high-pitched noise. Stir in half the zest and juice and the rosemary.

Add the stock, two ladlefuls at a time, stirring all the time until each portion of stock has been absorbed. Continue for about 20 minutes. Try to always stir in the one direction – this isn’t an old wives’ tale it really does make the risotto creamier.

If you run out of stock, pour some water from the kettle into your stock pan and add that towards the end.

After the 20 or so minutes, the rice should have doubled in size and be creamy. It should still be firm to the bit though. Add ost of the parmesan and stir in well. Taste for seasoning. Take off the heat, add a knob of butter and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Emtpy the bag of rocket in – it will look like there is a mountain of it but, like spinach, once the heat hits it the leaves will reduce down to nothing. Stir in well and serve.