Sunday, 4 December 2011

Recipe Swap: Crunchy Clementine Christmas Biscuits

What a week – I know that this is not the first time I have started a blog entry with this statement, but I do think my husband being taken into hospital with appendicitis warrants its repetition.   He is out now, in fact, he got out less than 24 hours after having his appendix removed.  He’s not allowed to lift which is challenging, particularly as the children don’t understand why he can’t pick them up for cuddles, and has to take it easy for four to six weeks – I will do my best to be a good nurse and caring wife, but I am sure he would testify that I am not the best at this sort of thing!  I will just have to cook him some yummy dinners to build up his strength!
There is, however, nothing like a medical emergency to help you get things into perspective and I am determined that we are going to have the best Christmas ever, especially as he should be well on the mend by then – yay! 
In order to keep my sanity this week and take my mind of its events, I was determined to get my entry for recipe swap done, particularly as Christianna has opened a new vintage cookbook for this monthThe Second Ford Treasury of Favourite Recipes From Famous Eating Places” and from it chose an American classic, the Toll House Cookie.  It was written in 1954, and features recipes from famous restaurants at the time, making it a fascinating vintage social register.    I love books like this, they are such an amazing insight into social history and I can’t wait to see what Christianna will pick each month.

From The Second Ford Treasury of Favourite Recipes From Famous Eating Placese
Anyway, to enter into the Christmas spirit, I thought I’d make some Christmas biscuits.  I had been thinking about what ingredients to use and inspired by a favourite seasonal cake Clementine Cake, I decided on Clementines.  A decision that was aided by the vast number of the tasty little citruses in my fruit bowl, part of my continued effort to encourage my girls with their fruit consumption!
I should note here, that as you have to cook the Clementine for two hours before using it, it could be a good idea to make it alongside the aforementioned cake, which you can find on page 75 of Nigella’s How to Eat. 
As it turns out, these biscuits are really tasty, full of festive spice and a background of seasonal Clementine!  As usual, I had some assistance from Elsa and Anna on this and we’ll definitely be making them again as decorations for our tree!  The smell when they are cooking is also amazing and sooooo Christmassy!

1 Clementine (place this in a pan and simmer, topping up with water, for approximately 2 hours – leave to cool, drain, remove seeds and  blend (skin and all)).
350g Plain Flour
½ Teaspoon Baking Powder
½ Teaspoon Ground Cloves

2 Teaspoons Cocoa Powder
1 Tablespoon Cinnamon
Pinch of Salt
100g Butter or Margarine
200g Soft Brown Sugar
Preheat your oven to 170 oC (150 oC fan).  Prepare your baking sheets (you’ll need a couple).
Sift the flour, salt, cocoa and spices into a large bowl and in another, cream together the sugar and butter and add the Clementine puree, beating well.  Add the flour gradually into the sugar and butter mixture until the dough forms a ball.
Wrap the dough in cling film or place in plastic bag  and pop into the fridge for a least half an hour (but up to overnight).
Cut the dough in half, and in order not to over-work it, roll one half out to approximately a ½cm between two sheets of floured baking parchment and cut out your shapes.  Repeat with the remaining dough.  I used my new star cutters, but you could easily use any Christmas shape, and remembering to make a hole for a ribbon at the top of each biscuit.

Bake for around 25 minutes.
I iced the cookies with simple glace icing (300g of sieved icing sugar with approximately 4 dessert spoons of boiling water), but obviously you could decorate in any festive way you see fit.
My little helpers!

Monday, 28 November 2011

A Treat for St. Andrews Day - Tablet (and Ginger Tablet)

I must apologise profusely for my failure to blog for the last couple of weeks.  A combination of preparing for a day back at work hosting two colleagues from our Nigerian partner company; a house  move; two trips to casualty (accident and emergency) with the children (all is well), and my birthday, made finding any time to blog pretty much impossible!
I did manage to talk at length with my lovely new Nigerian colleagues about food, largely as they found what was on offer here in Aberdeen and at our Hereford HQ, very bland!  I have convinced them to send me some traditional Nigerian recipes that don’t involve the use of a goat head. Also on the work front, my friend and colleague John has also deployed out to Iraq where he is working with another friend Alan, who was my host in Lebanon a few years back – I have been pestering them for some authentic recipes and hoping they bring me back some wee gems!
I got a great haul of cook books and food-related goodies for my birthday.  Among my absolute favourite pressies were the Chocolate Workshop voucher from my wonderful husband, a fabulous vintage cookbook from 1933 from my mum, and two amazing cake stands from my best bud Bexy, which are just crying out for some cakes to be made – watch this space...

My fabulous birthday pressie from my mum

Despite all that has been going on, we are all getting very excited about Christmas.  You can imagine that my two and four year olds are more that mildly hyper about the forthcoming festivities.  I am hosting Christmas Dinner this year for both my family and my husband’s – we’ll certainly have a house full but I have always wanted to do this and am feeling decidedly grown up!  I have also been inspired by all the Thanksgiving recipes posted by Blogging friends in the US, some of which I will definitely be trying on the big day.
Before the delights of Christmas Dinner, my girls and I will be making a lot of our own Christmas pressies.  This is, in part, an economy drive (I am on maternity pay after all) and also an effort to keep the girls entertained and spending fun time with mummy before I go back to work at the end of January.
This week’s recipe is for one such gift (if you don’t eat it all before you get it wrapped) and a specific request from my good friend Karen, who by looking at her lovely figure, you’d never know she has a massive weakness for this amazingly delicious Scottish treat known as Tablet.  Please note that this is not one for making with the children as recipes with boiling sugar rarely are.  I can also advise that even a small amount, if for example, pinched by a slightly naughty two year old, is like providing said child with rocket fuel – a massive sugar high and not advised!
Tablet has a long history in Scotland, it’s neither a toffee nor fudge, but has a unique texture that is completely irresistible.   The recipe I give here is that of my husband’s Granny Forbes (the photo is from her wartime handwritten recipe book).  I did, however, make this with a twist for my dad this past weekend, adding some finely grated stem ginger in syrup and must admit to being delighted with the result.

Granny Forbes Recipe Book

2lbs (900g) Caster Sugar
2 oz (55g) Butter or Margarine
200ml Condensed Milk
200ml Milk
(If you are making Ginger Tablet, you will also need to grate 4-5 balls of stem ginger in syrup, and one teaspoon of the delicious syrup from the jar).
Grease a 20cm x 25cm rectangular tin. Put the Sugar, Milk and Butter in a large saucepan.  Bring very slowly to the boil ensuring and add the condensed milk. Allow to come to the boil once again, and watch carefully for around 20 minutes (or until the colour turns darker), you can stir it during this time.
Remove from the heat and beat vigorously in reverse (original instructions) until it thickens and the residue on the side of the pan looks grainy. 
Pour into the greased tin and allow to set before marking into bars or squares.
(If you’re making Ginger Tablet, add the ginger syrup with the condensed milk but don’t add the grated ginger until you have removed it from the heat, just before you beat it).

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Lentil Soup with Pumpkin & Cheese Scones

I was really excited when Toni at the wonderful Boulder Locavore  blog suggested that I add a recipe to her special Thanksgiving recipe link even though we don’t celebrate this particular holiday here in Scotland. Despite not participating in the Thanksgiving festivities, I am certainly thankful for all the wonderful recipes being posted and I’ll definitely be trying some of them out soon.   Indeed, as I will be cooking Christmas dinner for 10 adults and my three children, I have been looking for inspiration and thanks to Toni, have definitely found some here!
Lentil Soup is a traditional Scottish soup and a family favourite.  It is a useful one for this time of year; warming and delicious, and the ham hough used in the recipe can easily be substituted with some left over roast ham.  The pumpkin and Cheese scones are a relatively new creation – following some experimental pumpkin baking - but are a perfect accompaniment to the soup.  They are also seasonal and lend themselves nicely to the lentil soup for a tasty winter lunch.
Firstly, the soup...
Lentil Soup
3 Large Carrots
1 Onion
Ham Hough (700g)
200g Red Lentils
1.5 ltr Chicken Stock
1 Tablespoon Oil (olive or vegetable)

In a large pan heat the oil and lightly brown the outside of the Ham hough. 
Dice the carrots and onion (I leave these quite chunky as I blend the soup at the end, however, you can chop them smaller if you wish to have a chunkier soup)
Add the veggies to the pan with the ham and sauté.  Add the lentils and heat through for a couple of minutes. 
Add the stock and a good grinding of black pepper.  Don’t add salt until the end as the ham will probably impart all the salt you will need.
Bring to the boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer for approximately 1 ½ hours.
Leave to cool before removing the ham.  You can remove the ham from the bone and add it to the soup (either before or after blending) or use it for something else (I made a risotto!)
I blend the soup, I prefer it this way and my little girls won’t eat it with identifiable chunks of veggies visible, but when I was growing up, my mum always mashed her lentil soup rather than blending.
Garnish with some crispy bacon, pumpkin seed oil or a splash of cream.

Serve with...

Pumpkin & Cheese Scones

450g Plain Flour
3 Teaspoons Baking Powder
Pinch of Salt
2 eggs lightly beaten
110g Margarine or Butter
Handful of Mature Scottish Cheddar
3 Tablespoons pureed pumpkin (approx 350g pumpkin flesh cooked, drained and pureed)
25ml Milk
Squeeze of Lemon Juice
Preheat your oven to 220 oC (200 oC fan).  Grease or line a large baking tray.
Sieve the flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl.  Add the margarine and rub together until like rough breadcrumbs.
Stir in the beaten egg and cheese.  
In a small bowl add the squeeze of lemon juice to the milk - it will thicken and sour.  Add this to the ingredients in the large bowl. 
Add the pumpkin one tablespoon at a time and mix in but don’t over mix.  The dough will be quite sticky.
Turn the mixture out onto a floured surface and dust with flour.  Flatten down with your hand as it will be too sticky to roll.  It should be about 1 and a quarter inches thick. Cut out the scones, I use a 3 5/8 “ cutter
This makes 6-7 big scones – a scone has to be big!

Place on a greased baking tray (spaced quite widely apart) and bake for 10-12 minutes.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Recipe Swap: Sticky Maple Muffins & Maple Syrup Cake

Well it is that time again...Vintage Recipe Swap!  This month marks the first birthday of this excellent adventure in cooking, and although this is only my third month of participating, I feel part of something exciting and am delighted to have met so many lovely and inspirational cooks from all over the world.
So, Happy Birthday to the Vintage Recipe Swap and many thanks to Christianna for coordinating this monthly endeavour!  Please visit Christianna’s Blog here.
I am always nervous about revealing my contribution and curious as to what take everyone else will have on the same original recipe.  This month, as the recipe is for cake, I am even more eager than ever to see what my fellow swappers have created.

So to this months swap – Maple Syrup Cake!
I couldn’t decide what to do with this and actually got a wee bit carried away, and, with the assistance of my eldest daughter, Elsa had a little celebratory tea party to mark the first anniversary of the swap with both cake, and muffins!
The first is a maplely twist on my mums amazing sticky toffee pudding (the recipe for which, I’ll post soon!)

Sticky Maple Muffins (With Maple Buttercream)
240g Chopped Dates
150ml Water
110g Butter or Margarine
110g Caster Sugar
280g Self Raising Flour
1 Teaspoon Bicarbonate of Soda
1 ½ Teaspoons Baking Powder
2 Eggs
260g Maple Syrup
½ Teaspoon Salt
½ Teaspoon Cinnamon
For the icing (and plenty of it):
700g Icing Sugar
175g butter or margarine
5 Tablespoons Maple Syrup
16 Pecan kernels to top
Preheat your oven to 180 oC (160 oC Fan) and place the muffin cases into your muffin tin (this recipe makes around 16 muffins).
In a small pan, cover the dates with the water and bring to the boil.  Simmer for 5 or so minutes before removing from the heat and stirring in the Bicarbonate of Soda.  Leave to the side.
In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar and then add the eggs one at a time.   Beat in the maple syrup and once combined, sieve in the Flour, Baking Powder, Salt and Cinnamon.
Then add the date mixture and stir in well.
Divide the mixture between the muffin cases and bake in the oven for around 20 minutes.  Allow to cool before icing.
For the Maple Buttercream Icing...  Put the icing sugar in a food processor and pulse, this will remove any lumps. Then simply add the butter and maple syrup and blitz until fully combined and looking smooth and tasty!  I think because of the inclusion of the syrup, this icing is slightly more difficult to work with than regular buttercream and the results may not be as pretty, but this stuff is extremely delicious and works very well with the sticky muffin base.

Maple Syrup Cake (With Fluffy Maple Topping)

I actually decided to make this cake after finding the recipe for the topping, so while I can take credit for the cake, the topping comes courtesy of Jim Fobel’s Old Fashioned Baking Book. 
The cake is very simple and is not dissimilar to the original recipe for this months’ swap and doesn’t require to be iced. In fact, I think it would be nice dotted with some pecans or walnuts and a drizzle of maple syrup, however, I just had to make Mr. Fobel’s “Fluffy Maple Frosting”.
Here goes...
425g Plain Flour
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
½ Teaspoon Bicarbonate of Soda
Pinch of Salt
½ Teaspoon of Cinnamon
¼ Teaspoon of freshly grated Nutmeg
4 Tablespoons of Milk
425g Maple Syrup
3 Eggs
Fluffy Maple Frosting:
130g Maple Syrup
110g Granulated Sugar
2 Egg Whites
Pinch of Salt
Handful of walnut halves
Grease a 23 cm cake tin and preheat your oven to 170 oC (150 oC Fan).
Sieve the flour, spices, salt, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda into a large mixing bowl.
In a pan, gently melt the butter and maple syrup together and remove from the heat.  Beat the eggs and add them, together with the milk to the syrup mixture.
Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ones and beat to remove any lumps.
Pour into the prepared tin and bake for approximately one hour.  Leave to cool before icing.
For the Fluffy Maple Frosting -
Sit a glass bowl atop about an inch of boiling water and beat all the ingredients together with an electric hand mixer for around 6  minutes or until stiff peaks are formed.  Remove the bowl from the pan and beat for a further minute.  Use the frosting immediately to decorate your cake.

Anna - pinching muffins!

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Pumpkin & Apple Bread (with a sticky topping)

This was actually the second recipe I came up with while experimenting with pumpkin over the last week.  I must admit to having never cooked with pumpkin before, aside from soups, but as my little girls have been getting excited about Halloween and they are readily available in the shops at this time of year, I thought why not.  

While pumpkins are obviously the norm these days for making Halloween lanterns, here in Scotland we have traditionally used turnips, known here as “neeps”, to make them.  However, as I was in the mood for baking and didn’t think turnip flavoured cakes would be too tasty, I opted to use this relative newcomer to northern Scottish Halloween festivities – the pumpkin.

300g Wholemeal Flour
100g Soft Dark Brown Sugar
2 Teaspoons Bicarbonate of Soda
1 ½ Teaspoons Cinnamon
½ Teaspoon Grated Nutmeg
¼ Teaspoon Ground Cloves
50ml Ground Nut Oil (or other flavourless oil)
340g Pureed Pumpkin
115g Pureed Apple
2 Eggs
For the topping:
1 Handful of Roasted Pumpkin Seeds*
50g butter
50g caster Sugar
1 Tablespoon of Plain Flour
1Tablespoon of Milk
1 Apple – Cored, Peels, Quartered & Thinly Sliced
Preheat your oven to 180 oC (160 oC Fan) and grease and/or line a 900g/2lb loaf tin.
Add the flour sugar, Bicarbonate of Soda and Spices to a large bowl and mix together. 
In a separate bowl, mix together the pureed fruit, eggs and oil and then add to the dry ingredients – be sure not to over mix.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for approximately 55 minutes.
You don’t need to add a topping, but this is very tasty!
In a small pan, melt the butter and gently sauté the apples.  Add the rest of the ingredients and melt together slowly.  Bring to the boil and remove from the heat.
Heat up your grill and simply pour the mixture over the cake (you may want to arrange the apple pieces).  Place the cake under the grill until the topping begins to bubble – remove from the heat and leave to cool.
*I used the method posted the other week by my friend Boulder Locavore from Recipe Swap  - only I added a shake of cinnamon instead of salt, herbs or savoury spices.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Sweet Heat Monthly Chilli Challenge: Zalouk

Well this is my contribution to a monthly challenge, founded by my friend from university and former flatmate, Lyndsey; a most excellent cook (I have first hand experience) and prolific blogger. Check out her blog at:   
This is the inaugural Sweet Heat Monthly Chilli Challenge and I am delighted to be participating and encourage you all to get involved for next month’s event - the challenge for which will be announced on 1st November.

For this month though, the challenge was condiments so my mind immediately leapt to one of my favourite and versatile dips/accompaniments, a North African treat – Zalouk.  It may not be the hottest or aesthetically pleasing of entries to this challenge, but I guarantee it is one of the tastiest and I only wish I could have transmitted the cooking aromas from kitchen this evening.
It may seem that I am being a little lazy as this is something that I have posted previously.  In my defence, it was my second post ever and, trust me, had a limited readership and no picture. It was posted by me while in hospital with my baby boy earlier this year.    So today, I made some Zalouk for both consumption and photographic purposes.  (Yes that is a picture of my husband on a camel in the background!)
While you can read my original post here, here is my recipe for Zalouk – enjoy!
Although having spent some time in the Middle East and North Africa both with work and for pleasure, this is more of a culmination of attempts to recreate flavours experienced both there and in one of my favourite North African restaurants in London.  For those of you from the region, please don’t take offence at my deviation from tradition, but hope you will agree this is a tasty version.
Serve Zalouk warm with pitta as a starter or dip when entertaining – yum.  It is, however, equally good spread on a lamb or beef steak and stuffed in a pitta with some salad as it was this evening!  Totally versatile and delicious.
1 large (or two small) aubergine
3-4 tomatoes
4 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons of parsley
1 medium chilli (deseeded) or 1 teaspoon lazy chilli
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon cumin
2 teaspoons salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper
60ml olive oil
80 ml water
This is really simple but very tasty! 
Peel and dice the aubergine and peel and deseed the tomatoes (and chilli if using).  Put all the ingredients into a food processor (I use a magimix) and blend together.   Add an extra splash of olive oil to a deep pan and add the blended mixture to the pan.  Simmer the mixture over a medium heat for around half an hour ensuring the pan is covered.  Stir occasionally and season.  Remove the lid and continue to simmer for another 10 minutes until there are no liquids remaining.
I often serve this with warmed pitta as a starter before a main of my lamb and prune tagine – the recipe for which will follow on a later post.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Toffee Apple Millionaires Shortbread

If you read my post last week, you will have noted that I had problems with recipe I was desperate to make as it just sounded sooooo delicious.  So this week, with a few alterations from the original recipe, I’ve done it and yes, it is good! 
Still on our holidays at Granny and Pampa’s, I have had more time to cook because of the extra hands to help out with the wee ones and have had willing Guinea Pigs for the various sweet and savoury recipes which I’ll be posting soon – so keep watching this space!
Unsurprisingly, given the capture of a certain Libyan Colonel this week, work has been on my mind, particularly knowing (with a little jealousy) that this will impact greatly on the work load of my colleagues. With Gadaffi dead it is likely that many of my clients in Aberdeen will be looking at entering or re-entering the Libyan market, which will make for interesting times when I finish my maternity leave at the start of next year!    If you are interested in what is going on in Libya right now, sign up for a free copy of the Weekly Libya Report prepared by my colleagues.
A low point of this week has also been work related, with the difficulty I have experienced sorting out childcare for when I go back!  I really think there should be more help with childcare costs for young working families as there is in other European Countries and in Australia.  It certainly makes it difficult to find that work-life balance!
Rant over and despite the appalling weather and childcare stresses, we’ve been spending lots of time with family and good friends, making teddy bears, and jumping on bouncy castles - and I, at least, have been eating way more than I should be!
It is obviously apple season and when I saw this recipe in the October issue of my favourite foody magazine, Delicious, I was really keen to make it.  Being at Granny’s house in a little village in Lanarkshire, I couldn’t find ground rice in the local shops and nor did Granny have a baking tin of the size detailed in the original recipe.  However, I overcame these obstacles only to be thwarted by the caramel recipe which, most likely through fault of my own rather than the recipe, I could not get right.  To this end, I resorted to a tried and tested family recipe for caramel, which worked a treat!
Toffee Apple Millionaires Shortbread
200g Butter / Margarine (chilled)
250g Plain Flour
50g Caster Sugar
2 Tablespoons Golden Syrup
200ml Condensed Milk
115g Butter / Margarine
115g Caster Sugar
Extra Knob of Butter (for frying apples)
3 Braeburn Apples
150g Dark or Semi-Sweet Chocolate
100g Milk Chocolate Cooking Chocolate
Grease and line a 28cm x 18cm Swiss Roll tin and preheat your oven to 170 oC (150 oC Fan)
Sieve flour into a large bowl or blitz quickly in a food processor.
Chop the butter into small pieces and add to the flour.  You can either rub this in with your fingertips or pulse in a food processor.  Mix in the caster sugar and work until it all comes together.
Press the shortbread dough into the prepared tin and use a tumbler to even out the surface.  Prick all over with a fork and put into the oven.  Bake for five minutes before reducing the temp to 150oC (130 oC fan), and baking for a further 40-45 minutes.  
Remove from the oven and cool before adding the caramel.
To make the caramel add the butter, sugar, condensed milk and syrup to a medium sized saucepan and gently melt together, stirring all the time.  Bring the mixture slowly to the boil and continue to do so for 7 minutes – and don’t forget to keep stirring!
When you have finished making the caramel, peel, core and thinly slice the apple.  In a shallow pan melt a knob of butter and fry the apple until soft and golden.  Add the apple to the caramel and mix through.
When the shortbread base is cold, pour the caramel mixture over the shortbread and spread out evenly.  Put in the fridge to set.
For the topping, you can, obviously use any combination of chocolate you like, but the gram quantity detailed here should adequately cover the tin size I used. For this, simply melt the chocolate in a glass bowl over boiling water.  Set the chocolate aside for a few minutes before pouring over the shortbread and caramel to cover.
Leave to set before cutting into squares or slices. 
Once, cut up, it is best to keep this in the fridge as it is sticky!

Just FYI, and if you are interested in making the original recipe (which can be found on page 106 of Delicious, October 2011) this may be of use...
The original recipe is as above with the following changes:
Use a 20cm x 20cm tin.
Instead of 250g of plain flour, it calls for 200g plain flour and 50g of Ground Rice (or Semolina).
For the caramel, it instructs as follows:
Add 350g Caster Sugar and 200ml water to a sauté pan, dissolve slowly.  Increase the heat and bubble the mixture for 10 minutes until the syrup colours around the edges.  Carefully watch the mixture and occasionally shake the pan (but do not stir).  Once it has turned a dark caramel colour, pour in 260ml of double cream and mix quickly with a wooden spoon.  It also instructs to transfer to a bowl to cool slightly before adding the apples.
Try as I might, I could not get this to work (although I suspect the fault here is mine and not that of the recipe).
Top with 200g or dark chocolate (60% cocoa solids).
Otherwise, the methods as detailed in my version above are the same.

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