April 28, 2008

decadent chocolate mousse cake

Is it a cake - or is it a mousse? Well, whichever it is, it tastes delicious! When I saw this recipe by Annie Bell I knew I had to make it. What is it, I wonder, about our love affair with chocolate, perhaps it's the velvety texture, or is it the irresistibly rich and decadent taste that wraps itself around your tongue, and into your psyche, leaving you helpless to resist?
This gorgeous cake cum mousse is a very simple cake to make, and it looks stunning. I love the way that the sides bulge under the weight of the just-set, unctuous, moussey, chocolate centre, hinting at the delights within. This is chocolate heaven, and I make no apology at all for posting this luscious recipe; it may be gratuitous in it's extravagance, but it's worth every calorie!
Chocolate mousse cake

2 eggs plus 2 egg yolks
150g golden caster sugar
450ml double cream
1 and a half tablespoons rosewater
300g good quality dark chocolate

Heat oven to 140C/ Gas 1, and then butter a deep sided 20cm cake tin with a removable base (the 'cake' is so soft when it's cooked that it's best not to try and get it off the base!)

Whisk the eggs, yolks and sugar until very pale - almost white, in fact, and doubled in volume. Meanwhile heat the cream and the rosewater to boiling point and then pour over the broken chocolate pieces. Stir gently every so often until the chocolate has melted and then add the chocolate mixture to the eggs and sugar and mix together. Pour into the prepared tin and then bake for 30-45 minutes (depending on your oven) until the cake is just set and still has a bit of wobble in it!

Leave to cool in the tin and run a knife around the top to release the crust if it has stuck to the tin. As it cools the top will crack a little but I think makes it look even more appealing! Eat this on the day that it's cooked to get the maximum gooey moussiness, although this will keep well covered in the fridge for a couple of days. Allow it to come back to room temperature before serving.

Lovely served with cream, or real vanilla ice-cream - or if you want a bit of a tang to cut through the rich chocolate, try it with Greek yoghurt!

April 26, 2008

sunshine granola

Okay......you know how the theory goes about making sure you have a healthy breakfast, packed with all sorts of good things, and..... you also know how it goes, that even with the best of intentions, and cupboards stocked full of said 'good things' it just never seems to happen - well, not to me anyway! I'm sure that time speeds up in the morning; no sooner have I clambered out of bed, rubbing precious sleep from my eyes, than it seems I have to be rushing out of the door - late again!
I always intend to make a 'proper' breakfast; I love oats in the morning, and sometimes the porridge even makes it from the cupboard to a bowl, although, more often than not, it's more of a whimsical notion, and my healthy breakfast goes by the board - again!
In an effort to redress the balance I've been looking around for a way to eat my oats without having to cook them first. Something I could just 'grab and go'. Then my answer came when I was trawling through my box of recipe clippings, and food magazines. There they were - several recipes for Granola! I've been aware of Granola but never really taken too much notice of it before, but now it seemed like the perfect solution to my breakfast conundrum - or lack of it! I adapted the bits I liked from the recipes I found, and came up with a lovely sweet, nutty mix that ticked all the boxes - just like a bowl of sunshine to start the day!
I enjoy it just with almond milk, and it's disappearing very quickly.....maybe next time I'll substitute maple syrup for the honey, and pecans for the pistachios, and add in some dried fruits (cranberries, strawberries, pineapple) - but then that's the beauty of Granola, the possibilities are endless - B and I are converted!

Sunshine Granola
(by Alfie)

3 cups jumbo organic oats
half cup flaked almonds
half cup shredded coconut
half cup chopped hazelnuts
half cup pistachios
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
6 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons walnut oil
1 teaspoon good quality vanilla essence

Mix all of the dry ingredients together to combine. Melt the honey and walnut oil over a gentle heat and then stir in vanilla essence.
Pour the honey mixture into the oat and nut mixture so that it's well coated and then tip into a large open baking tray.
Bake at 300F / 150C / Gas 2 for 20-30 minutes stirring frequently to prevent it from sticking.
When you have a tray full of fragrant toasted nuggets, remove it from the oven. Stir to stop it from sticking together while it cools, and then store in an airtight container.

Serve it with milk, nut milk, or natural yoghurt for a bowl full of nutty goodness to set you up for the day!

April 25, 2008

naturally sweet!.......sugarless date and apple cake

Dates are a wonderful sweetener, making the most of all those natural fruit sugars. So, when they're combined with raisins, sultanas and apple, well, there's no need for any added sugar at all! This is a real bonus in a world where it seems that almost everything is packed full of unnecessary 'added sugars'.
This is a recipe by Annie Bell which I came across in the Sainsbury's Magazine while I was looking for a low sugar Birthday Cake. It is so rich and fruity, and it could be iced if you wanted to, but seeing as I was trying to cut down on the added sugar on this occasion, that would definitely have defeated the object!
I must admit, that as it emerged from the oven in it's tinged paper shroud it really didn't look like the prettiest cake I've ever seen!
But, once it was cooled and dressed up with Spring flowers it was special enough to grace any table.......Happy Birthday Mum!

Date and Apple Cake

300g unsalted butter
340ml apple juice
300g dates - pitted and chopped
1 bramley apple - about 300g - peeled and grated
350g raisins
300g sultanas
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
150g ground almonds
150g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
finely grated zest of 1 lemon & 1 orange

Heat the oven to 150C / Gas 2. Butter a 20cm round loose bottom tin and line with baking parchment. Melt the butter with the apple juice, and then stir in the fruit. Bring to the boil, and then simmer for 5 minutes. Transfer this to a large mixing bowl and stir in the bicarb, which will fizz madly! Leave the mixture to cool for around 10 minutes.
Beat the flour, almonds, nutmeg, and zest into the fruit and then pour into cake tin.

As there is so much fruit in the cake it will burn easily, so to protect it while cooking, cut out a sheet of baking parchment that will fit over the tin and halfway down the sides. Cut a hole out of the middle of this paper the size of a 50p piece, and then butter the paper to prevent it sticking to the cake! Lay the paper over the cake and secure with string. Wrap a double layer of parchment around the sides of the tin and tie this in place too.

Now bake the cake for 2 and a half to 3 hours, covering the top of the cake with another layer of parchment if it needs it. It will be cooked when a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.
This luscious, moist cake will keep in an airtight container for three weeks - if it lasts that long!

April 20, 2008

dacquoise with summer berry compote

I don't really know what made me think of it.....Dacquoise. Perhaps it was musing on a light dessert for a relaxing Sunday lunch; an occasion to be savoured as it doesn't seem to happen too often! Or maybe it was my general preoccupation with ground almonds, a sense that seems to shadow me like some half forgotten eidolon.

Well, anyway, whatever it was, it sent me searching through my own hand-written student notebooks; dog-eared recipe books bespattered and smudged with years of loving use as their pages have given up their well-loved treasures time and again. Yet, strangely, this was a recipe that I have had for well over 25 years, and have, as yet, never made! I don't really know why exactly I've overlooked it for so long. It became a family favourite of my class buddy from our sixth-form cookery classes (or Home Economics as it was then!) In fact, I remember her calling me on several occasions when she had been asked to produce this favoured confection, but didn't have the recipe to hand!

Despite this, until now, it had remained for me just so many ingredients on a page. Until today, that is....so I approached the task with interest, wondering what it was that could be so special about what is basically a meringue with ground almonds added to it. Following the recipe I dutifully whisked up the meringue, and folded in the almonds, and then set it in the oven and waited......

Well, I can certainly see why this became a favourite. The ground almonds offer a taste that is rather like amaretti biscuits and the texture light and crispy with a little chewiness - not as sickly as a normal meringue, and perhaps a little more 'grown up'. The original recipe from my notebook was filled with apricots and cream, although the delicate nutty flavour would lend itself to all sorts of different fillings. We had ours with summer fruits though (from the freezer, since we're not yet even fully into Spring! ) as I felt I wanted a sharp contrast to the sweet almondy meringue. I'll definitely make this again, though I don't think I'll wait another 25 years!

Dacquoise with Summer Fruit Compote

3 egg whites
150g caster sugar
50g ground almonds

250ml double cream - lightly whipped
100g summer fruits
sugar to taste
1 teaspoon cornflour

Heat the oven to 140C / 275F / Gas 1 and mark out two 20cm circles on sheets of baking parchment and place these on clean dry baking sheets.

Whisk the egg whites until just stiff, and then whisk in half the sugar so that it becomes smooth and glossy. Fold in the rest of the sugar and the ground almonds gently until they are mixed in evenly.
Carefully divide the mixture between the two circles, spreading them out gently - they will be quite thin. Bake for an hour, or until the paper peels away easily.

For the compote, put two tablespoons of water in a saucepan with the fruit and sugar, and simmer gently until soft (about 5 minutes). Slake the cornflour with a little water to a smooth paste, and then add to the fruits, stirring all the time to avoid lumps. Bring to the boil to thicken the mixture for two minutes and then leave to cool. Alternatively, if you want to do without the cornflour you can just continue to cook the fruit until the juices have reduced to a syrup.

Finally, sandwich the Dacquoise together with whipped cream, and pile the fruit compote on top allowing some of the sweet juices to dapple the sides. Finish off with a light dusting of icing sugar and some toasted almonds. (Try not to assemble this too far in advance or the filling will tend to make the Dacquoise lose it's lovely crunch)

Then sit back, relax - and enjoy this with even more cream.....if you dare!

April 19, 2008

Ahem!....I'd like to thank....

Yesterday I discovered that the lovely Nic at Cherrapeno had chosen me for an 'E' for Excellent Award. I only started Blogging in January as an outlet for my love of cooking and photography, and already it's a lot of fun. Special thanks go to Nic as she has been really supportive and encouraging as I took my first faltering steps into the world of Blogging. Her own Blog is full of lovely recipes with beautiful and tempting photos, and every time I visit I always come away with a list of things to cook!

Getting the Award was such a lovely surprise, and although my Blog is really just a big 'canvas' for my own foodie experiments and ramblings it was so nice to think other people like it too! Thank you to all of you who have visited my Blog, and for all the lovely comments and feedback that you've been sending.

As part of the Award I am supposed to pass it on to ten other Blogs which I think are excellent - now that's a really formidable thing to try to do; there are so many wonderful blogs out there, how could I possibly choose?

So anyway...., after MUCH deliberation, and in no particular order (they're ALL so inspiring to read, and seriously gorgeous to look at! ) here are the Blogs that I would like to pass on the Award to....

You say tomato I say tomato
and then I do the dishes
Domestic Goddess in Training
The Knead For Bread
Milk and Cookies
The Traveler's Lunchbox
Confections of a Foodie Bride

April 14, 2008

sweet violet cupcakes

With Spring unfurling her rainbow hues, my garden is now carpeted with sweet violets, their frail purple blossoms a florid blaze.
Dating back to Roman times there has been evidence of violets being put to culinary use. In Rome they would welcome the Spring with 'Violetum' - a sweet violet wine, and why not? Like other plants, violets too are not without their medicinal properties. Folklore has it that the plant is good for all sorts of ailments from sore throats to headaches, to moderating anger, and even curing cancer. Violet blossoms are, in fact, higher in Vitamin C than any other domestic green vegetable, and also contain Vitamin A! Tea made from the entire plant is used to treat digestive disorders, whilst new research has detected the presence of a glycoside of salicylic acid (a natural aspirin) which affirms its use for centuries in many countries as a herbal medicinal remedy.
There have been recipes for using violets through the centuries, but the violet became particularly popular with the Victorians and Edwardians. A 'Violet Tea' was a Spring event, held when the flowers were in bloom. As violets are such delicate flowers, the Edwardian Violet Tea was presented in suitably elegant fashion. All food was especially light and miniaturized, with bite sized scones and sandwiches flavored with violet jelly or crystallized violets.

The violet is such a beautiful and evocative flower that I was inspired to use those delicate blossoms from the garden. Of course, my thoughts immediately turned to cupcakes! I was also reminiscing over the sickly sweet, but very addictive, 'Parma Violets' that I remember eating as a child. You can still buy them, but I haven't had any for years!

So, I started by baking a batch of cupcakes using a basic sponge mixture and adding lots of vanilla (I decided that anything else might overpower the delicate violet flavour) I wanted a flat topping that would frost the cakes with a slight crunch, so I used Royal Icing and added crushed Parma Violets to it. This produced a lovely pale lilac colour, and also, not surprisingly, tasted like Parma Violets....rather like a grown up and more sophisticated version of the candy! Finally, to decorate the cupcakes how could I better nature, so I picked fresh violet blossoms from the garden and crystallized them with a glimmering coating of fine sugar. They looked so pretty, a bit like ethereal butterflies.

The tender violet bent in smiles
To elves that sported nigh
Tossing the drops of fragrant dew
To scent the evening sky.
(Elizabeth Oakes Smith 1806-1893)

Sweet Violet Cupcakes
(by Alfie)

Sponge mix

100g self-raising flour
100g caster sugar
100g butter softened
2 eggs
1-2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking powder

Royal Icing
1 egg white
1 teaspoon lemon juice
icing sugar
3 packs of Giant Parma Violets

For the cupcakes, beat together all of the ingredients for 4-5 minutes until well combined and pale and fluffy. Spoon into cake cases but don't overfill - you only want the cakes to come about two thirds up the case when they're cooked.

Bake in a moderate oven Gas 5 for about 20-25 minutes until they are risen and spring back when touched. Take out and leave aside to cool.

When the cupcakes have cooled, cut the dome off the top just to flatten them out a bit so the icing will sit better. Then make the icing.

To make the icing, lightly whisk the egg-white and lemon juice in a clean bowl just to break it up a little, then beat in icing sugar, a tablespoon at a time, until the consistency is thick but it will still find it's own level. If you add too much icing sugar and it becomes too thick, just add more egg white to thin it down again. Crush the Parma Violets - I found the easiest way to do this was in a pestle and mortar. Using the food processor made too much fine powdery dust!. Then mix in a little hot water to make a paste. Stir this into your icing and then pour carefully into the cake cases. Leave to set - preferably overnight.

Decorate with the crystallized flowers - attaching them with a little more egg-white

April 09, 2008

thai sweet potato and carrot soup

I don't know about you, but I always seem to have things lurking in my fridge that have been bought with great plans in mind, and the best of intentions, but that, nevertheless, seem to get overlooked while life happens! Anyway, so it was that while hunting around in the fridge and pondering on some inspiration for dinner tonight, I came across quite a few things that needed using up; among them a sweet potato, carrots and a huge bunch of coriander. Hmmmmm - the Prawn Laksa I made at the weekend gave me an idea!...........I would use up the vegetables and make it into a veggie version of the lovely Laksa.
Spring hasn't quite arrived yet and the yellowy soup would be comforting, and lift my spirits too.
The spicy, creamy sweet, taste of Laksa is one of my favourite things, and I thought the sweet potato and carrot would work really well with all of the spices and the coconut without overpowering them. So, I based this soup on all of the things I love in a laksa, the spices, the fragrant coconut and coriander, and last, but not least, the chewy noodles to slurp the wonderful and warming spicy liquid through!

Thai Sweet potato and Carrot Soup

Recipe (by Alfie)

2 medium onions (roughly chopped)
1 tablespoon sesame oil
25g butter
Red thai curry paste to taste (I used 2 teaspoons because I don't like mine too hot!)
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
200g carrots (cut into chunks)
1 large sweet potato (also cut into chunks)
2 litres of vegetable stock
100g creamed coconut (grated)
4 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
medium bunch of coriander
250g thick rice noodles (or substitute your favourite noodles)

Start by sweating the onions in the oil and butter until they are soft and golden. Stir in the thai curry paste and spices and cook for a few more minutes. Then add the chopped sweet potato and carrot (there's no need to chop them really finely for this recipe as they will be blended later) and cook in the spicy oil for five minutes so they are lovely and coated.

Next, pour in the stock and then add the crushed garlic, coconut and soy. Bring to the boil and then leave to simmer for 30 minutes or so until the potato and carrot are soft. Just before the end of the cooking time for the vegetables cook your noodles separately, according to the pack instructions.

When the vegetables are soft, add the coriander and blend the soup to a smooth velvety consistency. Add the noodles to the soup and serve. Alternatively you can put the noodles straight into the bowls and pour the soup over the top.

This is such an easy soup to make, and packed with flavour.

One word of warning though - when making this, don't even attempt to cook, or eat this, in your best white T.......I got off lightly though; now I just have a lovely yellow blender!

April 02, 2008

'curiosity cola'

Another lunch-time jaunt to our favourite haunt, at our local Deli....Barrington's. (Crumbs that's almost poetic! )

I love just whiling away the time over lunch, or a coffee, sat at the bistro-style tables, whilst all around is fabulous food of all descriptions; local cheeses, speciality foods and drinks, sauces and pastas, and sweet things, and, of course, my favourite deli counter with the fabulous flans and colourful salads.
Today, while trying to choose which gastronomic delight to indulge in this time, I spied sitting in the chiller cabinet this fabulous little bottle. Straight away I loved the label and the name 'Curiosity Cola' - I had to have it!

I'm a real sucker for anything 'traditional' that keeps alive old methods and is well made. Fentimans Curiosity Cola is part of a range of beverages that are the result of a time honoured process of botanical brewing. As they say 'Colas originated from apothecaries and were heralded as elixirs with health enhancing properties. Legislation now prevents producers from making wondrous claims about the medicinal properties of their drinks, but believe our cola to be somewhat curious through the inclusion of Catuaba & Guarana extracts.'

Well... I can't tell you what it tastes like because I can't bring myself to open it yet - it looks so charming just sat on the kitchen shelf!

So today, I got two treats; lunch and a new 'trouvee' to admire. It really is the little things in life and the serendipity of it all that I love...