29 November 2012

Festive Zesty Panettone Bread and Butter Pudding

Last week we bought  a loaf of panettone which we didn't have time to eat before it started to go a little stale. Good news for me, as it gave me an excuse to make my favorite bread and butter pudding, which is the ultimate comfort dessert.
What makes it stand out from other bread and butter puddings is the rich fruitiness that the sweet Italian Christmas bread brings -the one we picked tasted as if the fruits had been doused in brandy, which was really, gorgeously decadent.
What is good about bread and butter puddings is that you can adapt the recipe to what ingredients you have, and the pudding never tastes second rate. I often just use semi-skimmed milk to replace the whole milk and double cream. Another nice flavour combination would be brioche with white chocolate melted into the sauce.

I first got the idea for this recipe from Delia Smith, and have been adapting it ever since. The addition of marmalade is lovely and Christmassy, especially when using a pot of my Father's homemade marmalade!

  • Marmalade
  • 1 medium panettone loaf or 8 thick slices of good, farmhouse white bread
  • 50g butter, softened
  • 275ml milk (ideally whole)
  • 60ml double cream
  • 3 large eggs
  • 75g light brown sugar
  • Zest of an orange
Preheat the oven to 180'C, gas mark 4.
Slice the panettone into thick slices. Butter each of the slices and spread marmalade onto half of these. Sandwich the slices with marmalade together with the buttered slices.
Spread another layer of butter onto the top of each pair and arrange in a greased oven dish.Whisk together the milk, cream, eggs and sugar together and pour over the bread.
 Sprinkle over the zest and sugar right before placing in the oven for 35-40 minutes until golden and puffy.
Serve with evaporated milk, cream, or creme fraiche, and get ready to fight for seconds!

17 November 2012

Christmas Cake Time!

Last weekend I decided it was time to get the Christmas cake made. The high moisture content from the boozy fruits stops the cake from going stale, and consequently it benefits from a month or two worth of maturing, fed with regular doses of brandy.

We tend to make two small cakes, or one cut in half, as our family is divided by who likes icing or not (me: love almond paste and icing; my parents, not so much). Below, I have used the photos from my un-iced, fruit glazed cake, using half the quantities listed, with a slightly shorter cooking time.

I used Delia Smith's classic recipe; it is virtually fool-proof (proved by my first attempt at this recipe, where I misread the recipe, mixed everything together at once and consequently curdled the eggs. I've written the correct recipe below, of course).

This recipe is such a classic; it doesn't need altering, although I switched the mixed peel for fresh lemon and orange zest, purely because I am not a massive fan of bought peel. To bring the overall weight back up, I added extra glace cherries, which I love.

Tip: Read through before starting -this recipe takes up a lot of time!

Delia's Classic Christmas Cake
  • 450g currants
  • 175g sultanas
  • 175g raisins
  • 50g glace cherries, rinsed and finely chopped.
  • 50g mixed peel
  • 3 tbsp brandy

  • 225g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt (omit if using salted butter)
  • 1/4 grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 mixed spice (includes cloves and cinnamon)
  • 225g butter
  • 225g soft brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 50g almonds
  • 1 dessertspoon black treacle
  • grated zest of one orange and one lemon
  • If glazing: Around 110g of fruit and nuts, such as glace cherries, chopped almonds and walnuts.
Mix all the dried fruit (currants, sultanas, raisins, cherries, peel/zest) together and stir in the brandy. Cover with a tea-towel, and  leave for 12 hours.
The next day, preheat the oven to just gas mark 1/140 C. Sift the flour, salt and spices together at least once, lifting the sieve high to aerate the flour. This is a cake that can become pretty heavy, so getting as much air into the mix as possible will bring a lighter texture to the cake.
In a separate clean, large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar together until pale, light and fluffy. Beat the eggs in a smaller bowl or jug, and add slowly to the butter and sugar a spoonful at a time. If added too fast, the eggs may curdle, creating a heavier, but no less delicious, cake.
When the egg has been beaten in, gently fold in the flour, using a spatula or pallet knife NOT a wooden spoon, which is too thick and will crush out any trapped air.
Now fold in the dried fruit, which should have absorbed all the brandy, chopped almonds, treacle and zest. Carefully spoon out the mix into a greased and lined square or round tin, smoothing over with the back of a spoon or spatula.
If decorating with fruit and nuts, decorating in any pattern you like. Cover the cake in a double-layer of grease proof paper, with a small slit in the middle to let steam out. This protects the top of the cake from the long cooking period.
Bake on the lowest shelf, checking after 4 1/2 hours, although it may take up to an hour longer. The cake should feel firm, and an inserted skewer should come out clean. Leave to cool fon a rack or 30 minutes before removing from the tin and allowing to cool completely. Finish by poking with a skewer and 'feeding' with a tablespoon of brandy.
Wrap in greaseproof paper and foil and store in a cool place, feeding occasionally.

13 November 2012

Singleton's Sweet Potato Soup

Due to a training afternoon or a parents evening, school finished at one to day *happy face* so I got to go home early. I spent half an hour walking around town handing out C.V's with cover letter specific to the shop/cafe because it seems pretty much impossible at the moment to get a part time job. Just recently, I read that on average, every basic-skilled, part time job has about 64 people fighting over it with glossy resumes and glowing references.

When I got back around at about 2:45, I was absolutely starving, but I had pre-planned my lunch, so I got going:

Singleton's Sweet Potato Soup -Serves 1
  • Butter 
  • 1 small onion or shallot
  • 1 small/medium sweet potato
  • 2-3 baby potatoes
  • 1/2 tsp dried coriander
  • 500ml of vegetable stock
  • 100ml milk
  • Salt and pepper
  • To serve: sour cream/ natural yogurt
 Chop up the onion. Melt a little butter in a saucepan over a medium-high heat, and pop in one piece of onion. When it starts to sizzle, the butter is hot enough, so bung in the rest of the onion, cover, and saute gently until soft.
Chop the sweet and baby potatoes in to small chunks, and pour 300ml of the stock over the onions. I use Boullion as the powder means you don't have to waste a whole stock cube when making meals for one.
Add the chopped sweet and baby potatoes and coriander and bring to the boil. Add the extra stock if it looks like the soup will be thick. Simmer until the vegetables are tender. I was really hungry, so I chopped everything really fine so it all cooked quicker!
Once the potatoes are tender, remove from heat, and blitz with a food processor until smooth (don't worry about the odd chunk of potato as this adds flavour. If it seems thick, add a little more of the stock again. Season, and stir in the milk. Decant into a bowl and drizzle the cream or yogurt over the top.

9 November 2012

Restaurant Review: Florio's Pizzeria

Although we are celebrating my Father's birthday with lunch out in York tomorrow, it felt wrong not to do something on the day itself, so we traveled to Florio's Pizzeria and Restaurant in Malton for a relaxed dinner. The Italian restaurant, recommended to me by an old friend, is decorated in the style of a fantastic Art Deco diner, full of chrome and mirrors, with the interesting feature of an open kitchen. We arrived fairly early, at 6:30, but as a family friendly restaurant, there were already several diners eating, with a good flow of people entering and leaving the whole evening.
We all opted for pasta; I ordered a classic carbonara (spaghetti served in a cream and egg sauce with bacon), my father, maccheroni all'Arrabbiata (pepperoni and ham in a spicy tomato sauce) while my mother made the best choice with an Americana, a simple spaghetti dish smothered in tomato sauce with white wine and bacon, that was perfectly balanced in flavour. The staff offered parmesan and pepper and were very friendly and efficient; and a quick glance over at the pizzas served on the next table looked very promising.

The food was amazingly well cooked for the price -similar, or even a little less than your average meal at Pizza Express -and also offers a pizza takeaway service. This isn't fine dining -but is perfect, comfort food for a relaxing meal out, and I'll certainly be taking friends here in the future.

8 November 2012

Birthday Baking

So, my Father has been dreading today, as it is his birthday. He used some of his annual leave to take the day off, but not before his colleagues found out and redecorated his desk yesterday with banners and balloons. It also meant that I spent the afternoon fulfilling the ritual of baking a birthday cake. I had a little difficulty on the recipe as it was so hard to find a flavour that hadn’t been done before; both coffee and walnut cake, and carrot cake have been all but banned for my Dad’s autumnal birthday by my Mother because they’ve been used so often. Chocolate cake, or anything that requires lots of icing are too sweet and rich for Dad’s tastes too.

So I found myself, straight out of school without any recipes in the middle of Waitrose. I’d of liked to have baked a honey and nut cake, or Nigella’s Autumnal Birthday Cake, but due to the copious amounts of honey and maple syrup required in each cake respectively, I’d have found myself creating a very expensive bit of baking for just three people.
In the end, I went for a lemon and pistachio cake, which is possibly a little summery on hindsight, but it will make a light change to all the richer wintery food. 

At first I adapted a cupcake recipe that I’d written down, but it turned out rather stodgy, so I have listed my lemon sponge, which is a lovely, light cake. If you have time, beat the whites and the yolks of the eggs separately, but lightly, to bring more air into the mix. Avoid over-beating once the flour is added or the cake will become heavy.

Lemon and Pistachio Cake
  • 225g (8 oz) butter, softened
  • 225g (8 oz) caster sugar
  • Zest 2 lemons
  • 1-2 tsp lemon curd 
  • 4 large free-range/organic eggs
  • 225g (8 oz) S.R flour (OR: 200g flour with 25g cornflour)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tbsp chopped pistachios
  • For the filling: either 4 tbsp lemon curd;
  • OR: lemon butter cream: 125g (8oz) butter, softened; 400g (14oz) icing sugar; juice of one lemon
  • Optional: another tbsp chopped pistachios

  • Basic lemon icing: juice of 1/2 lemon mixed with 100-150g icing sugar.
Firstly preheat the oven to 180 C, Gas mark 4.
Cream the butter and sugar together until pale in colour and fluffy. Add the lemon zest and lemon curd with one egg (or a little of the beaten white and yolk mix) at a time. Mix in a spoonful of flour between each egg addition to stabilize the egg so that the mix doesn't curdle.
Gently fold in the rest of the flour, the baking powder and the chopped pistachios. The mix should have a fairly soft dropping consistency; if it seems a little thick, fold in a tablespoon or two of milk.

 Pour evenly into two greased and lined cake tins. I brushed a little melted butter over my tins, and the cakes came out without any effort. Smooth out a little with a spatula, but avoid being over-zealous to keep the cake light and airy. Bake for around 25 minutes.
 After baking, allow the cakes to cool. If using lemon curd as a filling, warm the curd slightly in the microwave to loosen it before drizzling over the base sponge. Sprinkle over the chopped pistachios.
If using the lemon butter cream, beat together the butter in a bowl until creamy and fluffy. Gradually tip in the icing sugar, beating for a good 5 minutes to make it really light. Add in the lemon juice, continuing to beat the butter cream.
 For the topping whisk the lemon juice and icing together, using a non electric whisk -less mess! Add the icing slowly until you've got a thick liquid. Pour over the cake, and scatter over the pistachios.

4 November 2012

Banana Hazelnut Loaf Cake

Mmm! Cornish sea salt how I love thee! When we were staying in Cadgwith Cove in Cornwall this summer we picked up a pot of salt and pepper from The Cornish Sea Salt Company, and had to keep on buying from them. They also supply a smoked salt which I used for my scrambled eggs for lunch:
 Yum!. Smoked salt and a good bit 'o pepper in scrambled eggs with a toasted bagel. It made such a difference to my lunch; pure heaven.

Anyway, after that, I decided to use up a couple of bananas so ripe that only my Father would eat them. I based the recipe on the Hummingbird Bakery's with a couple of tweaks to the flavour.

  • 250g soft light brown sugar* -or 270g if you're not using the syrup
  • 2 eggs
  • 200g bananas (about 2-3 medium), peeled and mashed
  • 2 tbsp hazelnut syrup
  • 285g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1-2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 140g butter, melted
*if you don't have brown sugar, add a teaspoon of black treacle as you weigh out the sugar. Black treacle is the product of refining sugar into the white form, so you're just adding back that lovely butterscotch-y flavour.

Preheat the oven to 170 C, gas 3. Grease and line a loaf or cake tin.

Put the sugar and eggs into a bowl and beat until well mixed. Then beat in the mashed bananas, followed by the syrup if using.
 Add the flour, baking powder, bicarb and spices into the mixture (slowly!). Mix well, making sure that there are no 'pockets' of the flour mixture. Pour over the melted butter, and give the mixture another good whisk.
 Pour the mixture into a tin -ideally a loaf tin, but ours is in a box somewhere, so I used a large, loose-bottomed cake tin.
 The recipe recommends a baking time of one hour, but as my tin was quite deep, I turned down the temperature slightly, and baked for a good half hour longer. It's easy enough to tell if the cake is ready, as you just need to insert a skewer and check that it comes out clean. This is a rich cake, so it may look as if it is a little damp, but don't worry. If the top is starting to get crispy, cover in foil.
 When the cake is ready, leave for ten minutes or so before removing from the tin (but do feel free to just stand by the counter, breathing in that delicious smell!). This cake also goes really well with a little evaporated milk drizzled over.

2 November 2012

Back South

This last week I traveled back down to my Grandma's where I used to live. I came to see off my cousin Jeffrey, who is emigrating to America, where he was born. He was supposed to leave Monday, but then a little thing called hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast and airways went to standstill. At present, the plan is for him to leave tomorrow, assuming the weather conditions become a little less hostile -even so, he will be without electricity for a few days.

On the 26th, Jeffrey and I went to see Skyfall, which was incredible. I'm under strict instruction not to slip any spoilers, but I will say this about one scene: Home Alone. With guns.

I spent the first half of this week catching up with friends. I met Miriam all the way from Devon for lunch, and decamped along with my girls Sophie and Katie to a girl's night in at Lauren's, who is just about the coolest person you'll every meet. Watching the Hunger Games at Lauren's had me totally inspired to get active in a different way; I may not be able to practice weaponry and fire dodging at stunt school, but I can try kick-boxing or climbing. My issue with exercise is being engaged. I love the endorphin-filled rush of a good sports session, but much of the time I get bored. Aside from the odd handful of fitness-inspired weeks, I find doing lengths at a pool, or going for runs dull. Maybe I need a new route or a running partner, but I can't get motivated. I love dance classes, so I'm gearing myself to have a go at Zumba, but anything that will get me using my body has to be good.

Like an idiot, I continually forgot to take my camera out without me over the week, and as much as I like instagram, ipod-quality  photos aren't really blog worthy. However, this did mean that my Grandmother's neighbour's adorable puppy got my full photographic attention:
Albert, a name so old fashioned that it is cute, is a Jug, a cross between a Jack Russel and a Pug, and he is just the littlest ball of energy. He's so tiny that in the colder weather he needs to wear a little jumper or coat, which is beyond sweet.

I only ate dinner at my Grandmother's a couple of times. There was just the two of us, and my challenge was to find two different uses for a packet of pork meatballs. I cut each meatball in half for both recipes:

Meal One: Last of the summer vegetables pasta  -serves two
1 onion, chopped
1/2 packet meatballs
2 carrots, pealed and chopped
1 medium courgette, chopped
1 pepper, chopped
1 jar pasta sauce -homemade or from a shop.
100-200g pasta such as penne, depending on how hungry you are -this is pretty filling; I didn't need much

1. Cook the onion in a frying pan over a medium high heat with a little olive oil for a couple of minutes. Add the pork balls and brown then for a few minutes.
2. If you have any red wine pour in a small glass at this point. Tip in the pasta sauce and the chopped vegetables and bring to a boil. Leave to simmer.
3. While the sauce is simmering, add the pasta to a large pan of salted boiling water, and cook according to packet instructions. Try to get it 'al dente' so that there is just a little bit of a bite to it when you eat it.
4. Season, add some parmesan cheese if you fancy. Dish up and enjoy!

Meal Two: Pork stew with apple -serves two
1 onion, roughly chopped
1/2 packet meatballs
2 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 sticks celery, chopped
2 small apples, peeled and cored
Couple of spigs of thyme
300ml chicken stock
New potatoes

1. Preheat the oven to 200 C/gas mark 6. Lightly grease a casserole dish
2.  Put all the meatballs vegetables and apples into the dish. Season with salt, pepper and the thyme. Pour over boiling chicken stock.
3. Chop the potatoes if they're a little large and lay them on the top of the casserole. Cover and cook in the oven for 50 minutes.

I like to make use of the oven and serve up some baked plums for pudding:

Cut four plums in half and remove the stones and place in a small baking tray. Warm a tablespoon or so of honey. If you have any flavoured syrups, brandy or rum, add a little to the honey and pour over the plums. Sprinkle over a pinch of brown sugar, and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes.
Serve with marscapone cream: to do it properly, you add double cream and whisked eggs whites, but I substituted this for 2 tablespoons of low fat Greek yogurt stirred into 4 tablespoons of marscapone. Sweeten with a little icing sugar. Delish!
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