21 October 2012

Bake-Off and Flapjacks

Last week saw the final of The Great British Bake Off, leaving my Tuesday nights with a fondant fancy-sized hole after 10 full weeks of sugary pleasure. In the final -the first ever to feature only men -the challenges set the bar so high that in one challenge neither John, James nor Brenden could quite pull off culinary perfection. Surprisingly, this nigh-impossible task was actually to create something seemly innocent: the little fondant fancies of the 'exceedingly good' origin.

The final challenge took the contestants right back to week one -cakes. The cakes had to be chiffon though, which are cakes that use oil over butter, and only beaten egg whites as a raising agent. The theme was about "your" 2012; Brendan made a love-heart shaped caked, flavored with almond to show a family reunion, John made a heaven and hell cake, with an uber-glossy chocolate ganache topping to represent the highs and lows of his year; and James went all out with five cakes to represent the coming together of the countries of the United Kingdom in the Jubilee and Olympic year.

I was so happy when John won; as he was the contestant who wanted to travel to Paris and study Patisserie. Unbelievably, both John and James were in the middle of their university exams and Finals-for Law and Medicine respectively -throughout the later stages of the competition, and both came out with amazing grades.

In the aftermath, I'm not worried about the Bake-Off gap in my week, as I am currently being bombarded with foodie programs, including, I believe, Mary Berry's new show next week. Meanwhile though, I've been baking up some flapjacks as a thank you to my Dad for buying me some lovely new wellies at the weekend. All our existing wellies have various holes and seem splits in them; perfectly adequate for walks; not so good for wading through rivers in the name of Geography A Level next week.

I based my recipe on The River Cottage's Family Cookbook. Flapjacks are one of the easiest recipes to adapt to what you have or what you fancy, and mine turned out like this:

Zest of a lemon or/and orange
50g (2 tbsp) golden syrup
175g butter
150g sugar, ideally soft brown
200g of oats (cheaper is better here, as expensive jumbo oats will make a very crumbly flapjack)
70g raisins
30g chopped dried apricots
100g chopped nuts -I used a mixed bag of almonds walnuts and peanuts and some pumpkin seeds that I had left from roasting a pumpkin earlier on in the week.

Optional -150g chocolate, for melting over the top.

I also added a handful of plain granola for added crunch, and I replaced around 5g of the sugar for a slosh of hazelnut syrup -the type you buy to add into coffee. Gorgeous!

Preheat the oven to gas 3/160'C. Grease and line a tin with butter or a spay of oil, and some greaseproof paper.
Add the zest of the orange and lemon to a large saucepan. Dollop on the golden syrup, using a warm or oiled spoon to help it off. Add the butter and sugar, and melt over a low heat, stirring occasionally, until everything is mixed, dissolved and melted, adding any hazelnut syrup if using. Remove from the heat.
In a large bowl, combine the oats, fruit and nuts, before adding to the saucepan and giving it a really good mix.
Spread evenly onto the tin, making sure that the edges have plenty of flapjack mix -and don't forget to save yourself a little mouthful, as this warm, syrupy mix is heavenly.
Bake in the middle of the oven for 30-35 minutes, until it's golden and making your kitchen smell delicious. Leave to cool on a rack or board for ten minutes so that it can hold it's shape as you lift it out using the parchment. After that, carefully mark out where you are going to cut your flapjacks into squares.
While my flapjacks were cooling, I decided to add some melted chocolate. I don't usually do this, but sometimes you just fancy an extra treat. I heated around 150g of milk chocolate over a bain marie until melted. Then, taking individual squares of the cooling, but still warm, flapjack, I spooned on the chocolate diagonally, so that half of the flapjack was dipped in a cheeky layer of bliss. Leave to cool at room temperature, to help the chocolate to cool slowly in order to get a shiny, tempered, finish.

16 October 2012

What's in my World

Before I launch into recipes and madness, I thought I'd share a little of what is inspiring me in the kitchen right now.This year I've acquired a few new recipe books, most recently Ching's Fast Food by Ching-He Ling.

Taking a bit of a step away from the more traditional English foods, I've been trying out stir fry's. Admittedly, this is a little tricky with no woks availble for the present, nor is the electric oven that I've got to get to grips with until February. This book is great however; at the beginning is a list of essential South-East Asian ingredients, so you know what is worthwhile on stocking up on, the recipes are easy to understand and read, even at the fast pace that stir frying dictates.

My other favorite, which I have mentioned in previous blog posts is Rachel Khoo's The Little Paris Kitchen. Darlings, I want to BE Rachel Khoo. I want to fly away to Paris and spend Summer training at Le Cordon Bleu, and create petit dinner parties in my apartment. The sections are refreshing; based on picnic foods, entertaining and everyday snack and meals rather than the traditional starters-mains-desserts. The recipes vary in difficulty, so it's a great book for building up confidence.

As for the T.V.... well I've mentioned the Bake-off, which sprinkles even the most technically difficult and stressful bakes with bunting and nostalgia. Compared to the high-octane pace of Masterchef, another program that I love, watching the GBBO is pure pleasure. Baking is something all of us have grown up with, from punching out biscuit shapes at home, to creating the first batch of fairy cakes at school, and in true British style the Bake-off had tuned into this, with an extra dose of cute and kitsch.

On more glamorous side, Lorraine Pascal and Nigella Lawson have oozing kitchen goddess appeal with dinner party-worthy creations. Lorraine Pascal's Cooking Made Easy has brought a girly touch to entertaining, with every half hour episode featuring at least one sweet treat... possibly dangerous considering my sweet tooth... On the savory side of things, I can certainly recommend Lorraine's sweet and sour pork balls, which I made for my family as the eventual buyers of our old house came for a viewing.
Nigella on the other hand, has been presenting me with far too many pasta dishes to dream about. I love Nigella's old-school presentation style. It's not always for everyday cooking, but whenever Nigellissima is on, I can't but help toss my hair and flirt with an imaginary camera, and dream of becoming the next Nigella.

I've also started on Nigel Slater's Dish of the Day, which is the opposite style to Nigella's. The food is simple, with adaptable ingredients, and loose directions to suit everyday cooking. There's something really homely about Nigel's cooking, and it never fails to have my mouth watering...

That's it for my inspiration round up; but now my marinated chicken tikka requires some attention, a little rice, and salad. Chio xx

15 October 2012

Welcome Back: the Reboot

I haven't written in a while, partly because I've been wrapped up in moving 250 miles north and settling into sixth form, and also because I have been reconsidering my blog's direction.

Over the Summer and particularly the last few weeks I've come to realised how much I enjoy cooking. Without fail, each week I've tuned into the Great British Bake-off, spent Monday evenings cosied up with Lorraine Pascal and then Nigella in their respective half hour slots of culinary indulgence. Anyone who follows me on instagram (@EleanorMay_C) will have seen my numerous snaps of my experiments, although God knows now I am suffering from the off-puttingly poor lighting in our temporary kitchen.

So my plan is, along with continuing to post up some of my usual musings, to focus on the heavenly world of food -what I've cooked, eaten, seen and experienced. I've got a lot of dishes saved from Summer to share, so with a bit of luck I'll be able to keep you all entertained.

Until then... enjoy! xx
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