Thursday, 26 February 2009

Chocolate Caramel Mousse Pots

Everyone should have a good recipe for chocolate mousse in their repertoire, it's simple, elegant and can be prepared well in advance, the perfect dessert for entertaining. These Chocolate Caramel Mousse Pots have a layer of salted caramel at the bottom and are finished off with whipped cream, the flavour is intensely chocolatey and very rich. You couldn't eat much of this but served in small glasses they are the perfect end to a meal.

Recipe: Makes four individual portions.

For the salted caramel layer:
45g Light brown sugar
15g Butter
40ml Double cream
A large pinch of sea salt

For the mousse:
100g Good dark chocolate
3 Eggs, seperated.
40g Granulated or castor sugar
Whipped cream to finish
To make the caramel:
  • Mix the sugar with a tablespoon of water and heat in a small pan over a gentle heat until it has melted and become liquid.
  • Remove from the heat and stir in the butter, followed by the cream and the salt.
  • Pour into the base of four ramekins or glasses.

To make the mousse:
  • Break up the chocolate and place it in a heat proof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water.
  • Once the chocolate has melted take it of the heat, allow it to cool slightly the beat in the egg yolks making sure they are well incorporated.
  • Meanwhile in a seperate bowl whisk the egg whites until they hold soft peaks, add the sugar and continue to whisk for another minute.
  • Fold a spoonful of the egg whites into the chocolate using a metal spoon, be careful not to knock the air out of the mixture.
  • Fold the rest of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and pour the mousse over the caramel in the ramekins or glasses.
  • Leave the mousses to set in the fridge for at least 2 hours before topping with whipped cream.
  • Serve.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Fantastic focaccia bread

Focaccia is a delicious Italian flat bread which can be topped with all kinds of delicious things, herbs, olives or cheese are common toppings and a great place to start. What I really love about focaccia, what makes it really special is the olive oil which is both mixed into the dough and drizzled liberally over the top before baking. This is THE recipe for using that expensive bottle of extra-virgin you've got stashed away in the cupboard, nothing will show off it's flavour quite so well.

For the dough:
350g/12oz Strong white bread flour
200ml warm water
50ml Extra virgin olive oil
One 7g sachet of quick action yeast
1/2 tsp Salt

For the topping you can use whatever you like although the olive oil is essential and the salt highly recommended, I used:
1 Small onion cut into wedges
A handful of black olives, halved
Mixed Italian herbs
Extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt flakes

To make the Foccacia:
  • Mix the flour yeast and salt together in a large bowl, make a well in the centre and pour in the oil and water.
  • Bring everything together to form a dough (it will be quite sticky) knead for a few minutes on a well floured surface (you will need to rub some flour on your hands too, it is sticky!)
  • Cover the bowl with oiled clingfilm and leave to in a warm place to rise for at least 1 1/2 hours but preferably overnight.
  • Once the dough has risen knock it back and press out onto a large baking tray (you could make smaller breads by cutting up first)
  • Pre-heat your oven o gas 6/400f/200c
  • Using your fingers press dimples all over the surface of the dough, this will stop all the olive oil running off.
  • Sprinkle over your toppings, drizzle generously with olive oil (don't be stingy with it!) and sprinkle over some sea salt.
  • Leave to rise again for about 1 hour or until doubled in size.
  • Bake for around 30 minutes.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Slow cooked bolognese sauce

I make bolognese relatively often, it's a great standby recipe that I like to think I've got down to a fine art. I've tried all manner of recipes and techniques, from different herbs to different vegetables or meat, you name it I've tried it! If there was one thing that every recipe has in common aside from the essentials like tomatoes and herbs, it would be that they all use minced meat.

When I have an idea I just can't let it go, weeks may pass, months even but I just have to try it in the end, and I had a great idea for improving my bolognese. I was going to replace the minced beef that I would normally use with whole pieces of braising steak then cook it long and slow. It did take months but I finally got around to trying it last week.

Other than swapping the mince for steak I followed my normal recipe. It took a lot longer to cook, around 4 hours, but needed no attention so I could go and do other things while it simmered gently on the stove.The finished sauce was rich and meaty, the flavour just seems to get better and better the longer it cooks. Tossed through some papardelle pasta with shavings of pamesan this made for an extremely tasty bolognese indeed.

A few tips for a great bolognese sauce:
  • Always brown your meat first, it improves the flavour no end.
  • Bacon can improve anything, add some chooped bacon to your sauce for a delicious flavour.
  • Don't add too many different herbs and flavourings, keep it simple.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

The BloggerAid cookbook

If you've not heard of BloggerAid you should head over to their page and take a look. They are a group of food bloggers who are committed to fighting world famine. How? By raising awareness, holding fund-raisers, drawing media attention and now in their biggest and most ambitious project yet, by writing a cookbook.The project was unveiled by Ivy of Kopiaste.. to Greek Hospitality , Giz of Equal Opportunity Kitchen and Val of More Than Burnt Toast and in their words "We have announced our largest fundraiser to date ever!!!! ..., we will be publishing a cookbook with 100% of the profit from sales being directed to our chosen agency. The funds we raise will be directed to specific programs of The World Food Programme (WFP), the United Nations frontline agency. The needs are great and choosing a specific effort is currently being negotiated."

And YOU can contribute! but you'll have to be quick, the deadline is the 12th of February, that's tomorrow!

"The cookbook is targeted for sale on Amazon by November/December 2009. There is a great deal of work involved in delivering this project and we will rely on you to help in any way you can. We will keep you informed every step of the way on Bloggeraid !!!!"

I thought it was a great Idea and definitely want to be a part of it, if you do too click here!
My submission to the cookbook is a pear and ginger upside down cake, it's a twist on one of my favourite childhood cakes, pineapple upside cake. I was inspired to make this as the weather here is very cold at the moment. In fact it's the coldest winter we've had in 20 years so I was aiming for a really warming, spicy cake. I scored a hit with this recipe, sticky, spicy and moist, perfect! I chose to submit this recipe because it's quite simple, the ingredients are widely available and I think everyone will love this cake.

I can't share the recipe here as they are exclusively for the cookbook, so if you want the recipe you'll have to buy the book!

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Bacon wrapped stuffed pork fillet

I'm a firm believer that everything is better with bacon. It adds an extra layer of flavour and succulence, stops food from becoming dry, looks good and, well who doesn't love bacon? So when I got this pork fillet I knew exactly what to do with it.

Pork fillet is a fantastic cut of meat, it cooks quickly and so is great if you don't have much time to cook. The main drawback is that unusually for pork it contains very little fat, this means it can become dry and tough. A problem which can be solved with bacon, stuffing, or both.

To give my pork bags of flavour I decided to stuff it with olives, basil and feta cheese and wrap it in streaky bacon. It tasted fantastic, the pork was perfectly cooked and it wasn't at all dry. Result!

For the stuffing:
  • A large handful each of basil and black olives.
  • 100g (half a pack) of Feta cheese
For the pork:
  • 1 pork fillet (sometimes called tenderloin) about 500g.
  • 200g good streaky bacon.
  • Preheat your oven to gas 5/190c/375f.
  • To make the stuffing chop the olives, basil and Feta and mix together well the set aside. (it should be quite finely chopped but some bigger chunks are good).
  • To prepare the pork first lay bacon rashers out on a board next to each other and place the pork fillet on top.
  • Using a sharp knife slice the fillet lengthwise but not all the way through and open it out.
  • Pack the stuffing mixture into the pork, try to get as much in as you can.
  • Close the pork and roll the bacon around it.
  • Roast for 45-50 minutes then rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

How to make Vanilla Extract

One of the most useful ingredients I have in my cupboard is Vanilla Extract, I use it for all kinds of baking and desserts. Whether I use it for a full on vanilla flavour as in vanilla ice cream, or as a subtle background flavour in brownies and cakes, it is an ingredient I couldn't be without.

The vanilla orchid is native to Mexico although Madagascar is now the worlds largest producer supplying 59% of total production, it is the second most expensive spice with only saffron costing more. The vanilla bean is actually the seed pod of the vanilla orchid, a plant which is not at all easy to grow. Each flower must be pollinated by hand and each bean must be harvested by hand, the beans then have to be dried and cured for several months before they can be used. The whole process is very labour intensive so if you've ever wondered why vanilla costs so much, that's why!
Although buying vanilla from the shops is expensive it's surprisingly easy to make your own extract, all you need are vanilla beans, vodka and patience. It will take 2 months before it is ready to use but after that you should never run out again, just top it up with vodka and add a fresh bean every once in a while.The vanilla beans themselves are widely available online (try Ebay and Amazon) and at a fraction of the price of the supermarkets, it is well worth ordering in bulk as they keep for a couple of years well wrapped.

To make your own Vanilla Extract

You will need:
  • A 350ml bottle of vodka (Cheap stuff is fine for this)
  • 5 vanilla beans
  • Split the vanilla beans lengthwise almost all the way but leaving them intact at the base.
  • Push them into the bottle of vodka, place the lid on and give it a good shake.
  • Store in a dark place for at least 8 weeks and give it a good shake now and again.