Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Simple Courgette Soup

I was given a couple of large courgettes a few weeks ago by my allotment neighbours.  And immediately turned them into soup.  The few extra pots I had after my lunch portion sold out at the Alresford Country Market the next day.

1 tbsp olive oil
1 clove of garlic
4 medium courgettes
500ml just boiled water
500ml milk
2 vegetable or chicken stock cubes
1 tsp dried mint or 1 tbsp chopped fresh mint (optional)

This is a very simple soup.  Roughly chop the onion, garlic, and courgettes and fry as long as you dare until the courgettes begin to brown but the onion and garlic aren't burnt.

Crumble in the stock cubes, add the mint if using, and pour in the water and milk.  Bring to the boil, cover, and turn down to a simmer for 20 minutes.

Leave to cool for 5 minutes before liquidising.  Can be eaten hot or cold.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Minecraft Cake Block Cake

It appears my kids have moved on from no-bake train & caterpillar cakes.  Well my son apparently did want a caterpillar cake, his 9 year old sister told me, but when I revealed to her that I planned to make a Minecraft cake she calmly said 'I think he'll like that'.

Googling, you'll see there are some very detailed Minecraft cakes with individual tiles of sugar paste reflecting the shading of the character etc on-screen.  I, however, could not be bothered with that and made something a little more simple.

Serves 8

6in square tin

4 large free range eggs
275g approx self raising flour + cocoa (wholemeal or gluten free self raising can be used)
275g approx soft butter or margarine
275g approx sugar
2 tsp baking powder
Zest of an orange (optional)
2-4 tbsp milk or orange juice

100g soft butter
100g icing sugar plus a sprinkle
1 tsp cocoa
Strawberry jam
Ready to roll white icing
Ready to roll red icing

The cake itself is a simple sponge cake (and this coming from a relatively new cake baker).  Weigh the eggs in their shells then use this weight for the butter, sugar, and flour.

Mix the sugar and soft butter together in a food processor (the technical term I believe is 'creaming') for about 1 minute until it looks pale and thoroughly mixed.  You can add orange zest if you like.  It makes it a bit more interesting for the grown-ups.  Add 2 tbsp of cocoa powder and make up the required weight (based on the weight of the eggs remember?) with self raising flour.  Add the eggs, baking powder and 2 tbsp of your chosen liquid and blitz until the mixture looks smooth.  The required consistency is a 'dropping consistency' which means it flops off a spoon rather than pours .  You may need to add a couple more tablespoons of liquid to achieve this.

Spoon the mixture into a greased and lined 6" square cake tin and bake for 180C for 30-40 minutes or until a metal skewer comes out clean.

Leave to cool in the tin until entirely cold.  Meanwhile mix 100g of soft butter with 1 heaped teaspoon of cocoa and enough icing sugar to make the weight of cocoa and icing sugar up to 100g.  Leave to one side until the cake is completely cold.

When cold, remove the cake from the tin and slice carefully in half with a bread knife.  Spread half the butter icing on one cut side and jam on the other. Measure the cake at this stage with a piece of string from the middle  of one side to the other.  NThis is how far you want the icing to come on your cake and so, how wide a piece you have to roll.  Now sandwich the two halves of your cake back together and spread the remaining butter icing over the top of the cake and half way down the sides.

Roll out the white icing to about the thickness of a £1 coin and to the desired width based on your string measurement. Cut castellations (castle shaped 'teeth') around the edges of the white icing.  Carefully lift the icing onto the cake and ensure it is even.  I found I had to trim the corners of my icing once it was on the cake as it drooped down and had to be cut to make the bottom edge straighter and neater.

Roll out the red icing and cut 4 larger red squares roughly 4cmx4cm and six smaller ones roughly 1.5cm.  Get an image of a Minecraft cake block in front of you and lay the squares on the white icing and rearrange/trim them as you wish until you are happy with their position and size.  With a sharp knife cut around each square, remove the white square and poke the red one in it's place.  East the discarded white icing until your teeth ache!

And there you go!  I had never heard of Minecraft cake block until I googled ideas for a Minecraft themed cake.  My now 7 year old son thankfully recognised it immediately, and was thrilled.

Homemade Creme de Cassis or Blackcurrant Liqueur

Should start off by saying that this is still Work in Progress as I only started my first ever attempt at making Creme de Cassis at the weekend, and it's going to be another few months before I can try it.

I am following this recipe from The Telegraph, but I scaled it down for the 35cl bottle of vodka, and amount of blackcurrants, I had.

When ready, pour a dash into white wine to make Kir, or into Champage/Prosecco to make Kir Royale.


2.5 lb/1.1kg blackcurrants
20 very small blackcurrant leaves
1.75 pints/1 litre spirits (eg, gin, vodka or eau de vie)
1.5 lb/675g granulated sugar
5fl oz/140ml water

Wash the blackcurrants, discarding the stalks. Allow them to dry throughly, then put them into a large glass jar and add the blackcurrant leaves. Pour over the spirit, which should cover the fruit completely. Leave to steep for 4-5 months or longer.

Strain the contents of the jar (keeping the alcohol) and remove the leaves. Whizz the blackcurrants in a food processor and strain through muslin. Mix the strained fruit with the purple alcohol.

Dissolve the sugar in the water over a low heat, then simmer gently for 5 minutes to make a thick syrup. Cool. Pour slowly into the blackcurrant mixture, stirring continuously. Taste and stop adding syrup when the liqueur seems sweet enough. Pour into bottles and seal.

It will improve with age.

Sweet and Sour Vegetables & Noodles

A quick Sweet & Sour dish I learnt in Thailand.  It's a great way to vegetables into kids, even if you have to resort to selling it as 'it's got ketchup in'.

Below is the recipe as taught to me but I often use different vegetables depending on what I have left over.  I always use carrot and pineapple, plus sometimes pak choi, cabbage, kale, red pepper.  The list is endless. And again I usually add noodles, but you could serve this over rice.

Serves 2 greedy adults or 4 children

1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, crushed
100g cauliflower, cut into bite sized pieces
1 carrot
1 cucumber
8 baby corn
220g pineapple chunks (keep the juice)
70g snow peas or green beans
1 chopped red chilli (optional) or 1 tsp hot chilli flakes
2 tomatoes, roughly chopped (optional)
1 tbsp cooking oil
2 layers of noodles
2 tbsp lime or lemon juice
2 tsp sugar
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tbsp soy sauce
6 tbsp tomato ketchup
50ml reserved pineapple juice + water or stock

Cook the noodles according to the instructions on the packet.  Drain when cooked and leave in cold water to stop them cooking and sticking.

Mix the sauce ingredients together in a bowl apart from the juice/water.

Prepare the cauliflower, carrot, snow peas, and baby corn and chop into bite sized pieces.

Put the oil into a wok and fry the garlic over a high heat until it starts to turn brown. Add the onion and stir fry. Add the cauliflower and carrot followed by the cucumber, baby corn and pineapple and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add the chillies, tomatoes and peas and stir fry for another minute until all the vegetables are cooked. Add the sauce ingredients and noodles and stir to combine. Add as much or as little of the reserved juice/water to make it the consistency you like. Serve immediately.

Cooked chicken or pork can be added at the start with the garlic if wished.

The trick is to prepare everything before hand as once you start stir frying the dish is pretty much done in a matter of minutes.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Rhubarb & Ginger Jam

11 years ago we bought a house with an all but abandoned veg patch.  There were three large rhubarb clumps.  When I made three raised beds around the crudely dug earth, I divided the rhubarb and replanted it in several places in my revitalised veg patch, presuming it would not all survive.  It did, and so now I have more rhubarb than I know what to do with.  Usually I chutney it, marmalade it.  But this year in addition to selling it for a pittance, I have made jam with it.  To be followed by rhubarb syrup to have with prosecco.

Rhubarb & Ginger Jam

Makes 4x 450g jars

1kg rhubarb (forced pink rhubarb would give this jam a nicer pink colour!)
1kg sugar
1 lemon
40g root ginger

Trim, wash and chop the rhubarb into 1cm wide pieces.  Place in a large plastic or ceramic mixing bowl, grate over the zest of the lemon and the ginger, or puree the ginger with the lemon juice and a little water.  Keep the lemon pips!  Add the sugar and mix well.  Leave for 2 hours, stirring from time to time, for the sugar to dissolve into the rhubarb juices.

After 2 hours place the contents of the bowl, together with the lemon pips tied inside a piece of muslin, into a large saucepan.  Bring to the boil then simmer quickly for 20-30 minutes until the jam as reached setting point.  Test this by placing a little jam on a saucer that has been in the freezer and seeing whether it wrinkles when you push it across the plate with your finger.

The recipe I based mine on said use jam making sugar, which has added pectin which helps jam set,  as rhubarb is low in pectin and only simmer for 10-15 minutes.  But I simply used white granulated sugar and setting point seemed to be after about 30 minutes of simmer, and the jam is still slightly runny.

Pour into sterlised jars when both the jars and jam are still hot and seal immediately.

Indian Mango Chutney

9 year old Sprout has announced she likes Mango Chutney so I just had to try and make some.  Recipe is off the web but apparently from Madhur Jaffrey.  I didn't have green mangoes, just overripe juicy ones.  Plus I used pickling vinegar as I forgot to get cider vinegar.  Oh well, here goes nothing...

2 large green mangoes
2 tsp salt
2-4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 inch fresh ginger, chopped
12 floz cider vinegar or distilled white vinegar
14 oz granulated sugar
4 tbsp golden sultanas
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp cayenne pepper

Peel mangoes and dice.  Sprinkle 1tsp salt over and leave for 24 hours.   As my mangoes were very ripe I didn't do this, but I am now wondering whether sprinkling my very soft mango with salt might help keep what little crunch it had.  If you do salt the mango, drain and pat it dry after 24 hours.

Put garlic and ginger into processor with a little vinegar and blitz into a smooth paste.  Put the rest of the vinegar, sugar, sultanas, turmeric, cayenne, 1 tsp salt, and the ginger and garlic paste into a saucepan and bring to the boil.  Simmer without a lid for 15 minutes or until slightly thick.  Add the chopped mango and simmer for a further 20-30 minutes until the mango looks translucent and the chutney has thickened some more.  Check seasoning and pour into sterilised jars.

Apparently this chutney can be eaten immediately, but most 'British' chutneys say leave for 3 months before eating.  Equally the instructions are to store this chutney in the fridge even before opening, but one will join my other varieties in the garage until it's time comes.