Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Pumpkin and spice cake

A few weeks ago the people at Silver Spoon sent me some of their decorations to make something for Halloween. I had no idea what to make but eventually decided I'd make a pumpkin cake, after all when most people think of Halloween they think of pumpkins...
Halloween is almost upon us and while I don't really celebrate it myself I do take full advantage of the piles of the bright orange Halloween pumpkins that are being sold everywhere right now.

Pumpkin can be a delicious vegetable simply roasted with butter and a few herbs or stirred into a rich and creamy risotto. Unfortunately the pumpkins sold for carving are normally grown for size rather than flavour and can be a bit bland and watery, but don't be put off, they still have there uses such as in this pumpkin cake.The recipe I used is adapted from a bundt cake recipe I found at Pinch My Salt. I've converted it to a sandwich cake and used yoghurt rather than sour cream for the batter, I don't know how but yoghurt seems to give cakes softer, lighter texture, I use yoghurt in scones too for the same reason. I've also added walnuts to the cake because they just taste so good in this kind of cake.Pumpkin and spices belong together so I've used cream cheese cinnamon icing for this cake topped with candied orange peel and some fruit jellies kindly sent to me by Silver Spoon. The finished cake is very similar in texture to carrot cake but it has a distinctive pumpkin flavour, think of pumpkin pie in cake form and you'll have some idea of what it's like.

So when Halloween is over and your jack o' lanterns are finished with maybe you could give them a second life as a delicious pumpkin cake.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Caramelised mango with coconut panna cotta

Having an organic veg box delivered is a great way to get your hands on a regular supply of top quality, super-fresh fruit and vegetables direct to your door. It's brilliant for those times when there's just too much going on and you're just too busy to get to a market or a good greengrocers. I love my veg box and wouldn't be without it.

Of course there are times when the veg box presents challenges, sometimes I get vegetables or fruit that I'm not used to cooking or on rare occasions something that I just don't like that much. The last two weeks have been like that, It's obviously the time for mangoes because they've been in my box two weeks in a row.I've used mango a few times before but it's not something I often buy. I've made mango cheesecake before and a really fantastic spicy mango salsa, this time however I chose to chop it into chunks and caramelise it to make a sweet, golden mango compote. It would have made a great topping for ice cream or paired with a dollop of Greek yogurt, I chose to serve mine with a silky smooth coconut panna cotta.Panna cotta is a classic Italian dessert that's incredibly easy to make having just four ingredients, cream, sugar, gelatine and vanilla. To make a coconut panna cotta I left out the vanilla and substituted some of the cream for coconut milk, the flavour of coconut isn't strong but the cream does have a light, delicate, tropical coconut flavour, the perfect partner to sweet sticky caramelised mango.
Coconut panna cotta with caramelised mango (Serves 6-8)
For the caramelised mango:
  • 1 Large mango, peeled, stoned and diced
  • 5 Tablespoons white sugar
  • Water
For the panna cotta:
  • 600ml/1 Pint double/heavy cream
  • 400ml Coconut milk
  • 75g White sugar
  • Gelatine leaves, enough to set 1 litre of liquid (Every brand of gelatine is different, I used 7 leaves of supercook gelatine but check your packet)
For the mango:
  • Put the sugar in a pan with a few spoonfuls of water, put it on the heat and bring to a boil. Keep boiling until it has turned a golden caramel colour.
  • When your sugar has caramelised add all the mango to pan, the sugar will seize but keep cooking and it will soften again.
  • Cook until the mango is soft and coated with a sticky syrup.
  • Set aside to cool for a few minutes then store in the fridge.
For the panna cotta:
  • First off put your gelatine leaves into a bowl of water to soften.
  • Place the cream, coconut milk and sugar into a saucepan and place on a gentle heat until it just begins to simmer, don't let the mixture boil.
  • When the cream mixture is just beginning to bubble around the edges take it of the heat and add the gelatine one sheet at a time whisking the mixture after each sheet has been added.
  • Once all the gelatine had been dissolved pour the mixture into molds or glasses and place in the fridge to set.
  • Serve with a spoonful of caramelised mango on top.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

In The Bag - Chicken and Chestnut Pie with Leeks, Mushrooms and Tarragon

This October sees the return of 'In The Bag' the seasonal food blogging event run by Julia from A Slice of Cherry Pie and Scott from The Real Epicurean. The challenge is to cook a dish which includes three seasonal ingredients which are chosen for us. The ingredients this month were mushrooms, herbs and nuts, I couldn't have been happier with that selection, it's almost as if they were chosen just for me.Aside from any Blumenthalesque concoctions sweet dishes were obviously out of the question, on the savoury side however the possibilities were almost endless. October really is a great month to be in the kitchen, the sheer vastness of the fresh, seasonal food available to me right now meant I really was spoilt for choice. I toyed with idea of doing a pasta dish -pine nuts, wild mushrooms, mixed herbs and maybe a creamy sauce- or maybe making a stuffing with the nuts and the herbs to fill some chicken breasts. In the end it was the weather that decided it for me, it's got quite a bit colder here in the past week and what I needed, what I really wanted, was pie.
The inspiration for my pie came from a recipe I saw a while back for a beef and chestnut pie, I thought that while the beef pie sounded really good chestnuts would probably go better with chicken, so that's what I did.

Chicken thighs are much more succulent and flavoursome than chicken breast which can easily dry out and can taste a bit bland. For the meat in my pie I first roasted chicken thighs on the bone until they were golden brown then shredded the meat off the bone ready to add to the filling. For the base of the pie I gently softened sweet young leeks and mild onions in butter so they cooked without colour, they add a sweetness and a delicious background flavour to the pie that perfectly compliments the chicken.To the base I added chopped chestnut mushrooms which are a bit chunkier and meatier than the usual white ones, I would have loved to use wild mushrooms if only I had had some. For the herbs I used a mixture of parsley and chickens best friend, tarragon. The parsley was more for colour than flavour but the tarragon has an amazing aniseed flavour that I just love and works fantastically well with chicken.

The final ingredient was the chestnuts, I used ready cooked and peeled chestnuts, the ready prepared are usually excellent quality but you could use fresh ones if you can get them. The chestnuts added a much needed texture contrast, without them it would all have been a bit too soft, they also add a wonderfully autumny nuttiness to the whole dish. I'm always sad to see the summer slipping away but it's delicious treats like chestnuts that remind me that there are still good things to look forward to, it won't be long before I'm drinking mulled wine and roasting fresh chestnuts over the fire.....

Chicken and chestnut pie (serves 6-8)

For the pastry:
  • 125g cold butter, diced
  • 250g plain white flour
  • Salt
  • Water
For the filling:
  • 6 Large chicken thighs, bone-in, skin on
  • Butter
  • Olive oil
  • 2-3 Leeks
  • 3 Medium white onions
  • 250g Chestnut mushrooms
  • 2 Handfuls of finely chopped parsley
  • The leaves from 3 or 4 sprigs of tarragon
  • 200g cooked and peeled chestnuts
  • 6 large heaped spoonfuls of creme fraiche
  • Salt and black pepper
  • An egg for glazing the pastry
For the pastry:
  • First make the pastry. Place the flour in a large mixing bowl with a pinch of salt, rub in the butter cubes using your fingertips until it resembles breadcrumbs.
  • Add a couple of tablespoons of water and bring the mixture together with your hands. If it doesn't form into a ball add a little more water.
  • Once you have a smooth ball of dough place it back in the bowl, cover it and leave it in the fridge while you start on the filling.
For the filling:
  • First you need to cook the chicken thighs, season them well with salt then place them in a roasting tin and cook in a medium oven until golden brown. Once cooked leave them to cool then remove the skin and tear the meat from the bones. Set the meat aside and discard the skin and bones. (or do as I did and feed the skin to your cat).
  • Now clean the leeks by slicing them lengthwise from the base leaving the root intact, wash them well to remove any grit or soil them slice into smallish pieces along with the onions.
  • In a large heavy frying pan melt a good chunk of butter and a splash of olive oil, add the leeks and onions and cook slowly and gently so they are soft but not coloured.
  • Slice the chestnut mushrooms leaving them quite chunky and add them to the leeks and onions, stir them well in and leave them to cook.
  • Finely chop the parsley and tarragon and add it to the pan, tarragon is quite strong so you won't need a lot, taste the mixture and add more tarragon if it needs it.
  • As soon as the mushrooms have cooked stir in the shredded chicken, chestnuts and creme fraiche, season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper. taste the mixture and adjust the seasoning to taste.
  • Spoon the mixture into an oven proof pie dish then roll our your pastry.
  • Lay the pastry over the top of the pie filling, pushing it well down onto the edge of the dish so it has sealed. Trim off any excess pastry and brush the top with a little beaten egg, cut a few holes in the top to allow steam to escape the bake at about gas 5/190c/375f for 30-45 minutes or until the pastry is cooked and golden brown.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Rillons - Confit pork belly

I'm not a vegetarian but I'm no blood-thirsty carnivore either. I'll happily much my way through meat-free meals without so much as thinking about the big hunk of chicken or piece of steak that I could have been eating. To me a well made vegetarian dish can be every bit as good as -if not better than- its meaty counterpart. That said, there are those times when I get an itch that only something rich, unctuous, succulent and meaty can scratch, it's times like these that rillons were invented for...Rillons -a French speciality from the Loire Valley- are a kind of confit pork belly. Chunks of fatty belly pork slowly cooked in there own fat with a splash of wine, lots of garlic and thyme until they they become succulent, soft and melt in the mouth tender. After 3-4 hours of slow cooking they are very hard to resist but the French way is to eat them cold, I ate mine with homemade bread and Dijon mustard. Left preserved in their fat they should keep for a good few days in the fridge and make a great snack to take away hose carnivorous hunger pangs.I used Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's recipe as a guide adapting it to my taste. This kind of food is hugely adaptable, there's no reason why you couldn't use all manner of different herbs and seasonings, although being French I would say garlic was essential.

  • 1 pork belly weighing around 1kg or bigger diced into 1 1/2 inch squares
  • Sea salt
  • Lard
  • 5-6 cloves of garlic
  • A glass of red wine
  • Sprigs of fresh thyme
  • Melt about a tablespoon of lard in a very hot pan and brown the cubes of pork until they are golden all over.
  • Season the pork with the salt and put all the pieces into a roasting dish along with the garlic, red wine, thyme and the fat from the frying pan.
  • cook in a low oven for anywhere from 2-4 hours until the meat is very tender.
  • Leave the meat in the roasting dish until cold and eat with good bread.