Saturday, 21 December 2013

More Vanilla Beans than Sense

Recently I decided to buy some vanilla. Ok, one or two beans. No such thing, I bought 500g. That's a lot of vanilla. So, when I do this sort of thing I have to use it up so that it does not go dry. My two ideas of choice are:

Vanilla Bean Paste


Vanilla Extract

The vanilla bean paste is for those who have no patience.  It is quick to make and can be used immediately. If the smell in my kitchen was anything to go by even before it was finished would have been good.

Simply take about 12 vanilla beans, (a lot, I know but his will make enough for a year at least.

Cut the beans in to pieces of about 2cm.

Weigh out 500g of sugar and mix the beans with the sugar. Put the whole lot into the bowl of a blender and blend until all of the beans and sugar are reduced to a fine powder. You will need to have the sugar in with the beans or it will not work. Trust me don't bother to try it.

Next I sieved the whole lot to separate it out into the sugar with the vanilla seeds and the chopped up beans. Now this is where reality and desire become confused. What I should have done at this point is added the sieved vanilla and sugar to the water and proceeded from there. Did I do this? Not really. I actually changed my mind and threw the lot into the pot with the water. I boiled it up and when it came to the boil I sieved it again.

Then I boiled it up until the mixture became syrupy.

Bottle and it can be used straight away.

Now, I'm not too sure whether this is the best way, but it certainly gets a very dark paste.

Vanilla extract is another matter alltogether. This time I used very strong alcohol. A flavourless Vodka is good. No need to buy anything good as it is really only a carrier for the vanilla flavour.

It is simplicity to make as all that you have to do is cut 4 vanill beans in half put them in a jar with 200 - 250 ml of vodka. Put on the top and wait,      and wait,     and wait.

It will be about 6 months before the extract is ready to use.

My suggestion is to do both the paste and the extract. use one straight way and the other when the first is finished.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Montersino Rules for Bread.

These may well be 'Montersino Rules for Bread' but for me Montersino really does rule over the kitchen. So when I was watching one of his Accademia Montersiono programmes on Alive TV
( Italian language only) I gleaned several things form him that I think are important to note down here before I forget them.

  1. The longer the raising time the smaller the quantity of yeast needed.
  2. A biga must be left to develop for 18 to 20 hours. 
  3. Add the salt at the end of the kneading process as the salt crystals make the gluten strands rigid and inhibit their production.
  4. The amount of salt in the mixture affects the time that the dough takes to prove. If you want to lengthen the proving time of the bread add extra salt. This has to be within reason. I didn't quite catch the rule so I'll watch the programme again to get the formula right.
  5. Use a medium gluten content flour if you want to have a crisp crust. The protein in the flour absorbs humidity and makes even the crispiest crust go soft.
  6. These may well be 'Montersino Rules for Bread' but for me Montersino really does rule over the kitchen. So when I was watching one of his Accademia Montersiono programmes on Alive TV
    ( Italian language only) I gleaned several things form him that I think are important to note down here before I forget them.
  7. The temperature of the dough should not go above 27 C as it will inhibit the yeast growth. If the dough is mixed in a machine, the action of the dough hook can raise the temperature significantly. This is why many bakers tell you not to use warm water to make bread. (Paul Hollywood being a case in point).
There's a fantastic tretis on the science of it all here:

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Great British Bakeoff

I watched the bake off this evening and, I'm afraid that I predicted that Becca would go. It's a pity as she has worked so hard and I think that what she has made has been terrific.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Plums and apples the flavours of autumn

In recent years I feel that we have lost sight of the seasons. The supermarkets bring us whatever fruit or vegetables that we want at any time of the year. Strawberries at Christmas being a good example of what I mean.  So, for this post I want to cook exactly what's in season and today that is apples and plums. The apples were given to my by a dear friend and the plums come from our garden in Italy. We picked them ourselves after waiting eagerly for them to ripen up to our satisfaction.

I decided to make small tartlets as I can contain myself to one rather than scoffing a large piece of a tart. I also wanted them to look pretty. Not too sure that I achieved that though. They certainly look homemade.

I tend not to weigh out too much when it comes to the filling as I just make use of what I have on hand.  If I make too much, I freeze it until I can use it up in a different way.

  1. Make the filling by peeling, quartering and cubing some apples. I used Bramleys.
  2. Remove the stones from an equal weight of plums and mix in to the apples. Add enough sugar to sweeten to your taste. I like mine sharp so I don't add too much. You can always taste after they are cooked and add more.
  3. I cook mine in the microwave for as long as it takes to soften the fruit. All microwave ovens will differ.
  4. Cool the mixture before using it to fill the pastry shapes.


200g plain flour
120g butter
60g sugar
1 egg

  1. Rub the butter into the flour and sugar.
  2. Add the egg and bring the mixture together into a ball of dough. If there is not enough liquid try adding a small spoonful of water at a time until the ball of dough forms.
  3. Put the dough into the fridge to firm up. About 30mins should be enough.

Heat the oven to 180 degrees C.

On a floured surface roll out the pastry until it is about 3mm thick. Cut into rounds big enough to fill small muffin tins. Line the tins with the pastry.
Fill the moulds with enough of the apple and plum filling to just below the top of the moulds.
Roll out the remaining pastry and cut into strips. decorate the tops of the tartlets with the pastry.
Cook in a preheated oven until well browned.
Wait until the tartlettes have cooled a little before turning out.

Now for some custard or should it be cream?

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Kugelhopf or Gugelhupf call it what you will.

Two ways of spelling one cake. Well it all depends on where you live in the world. So you can go with whichever name you choose. When it's spoken I believe that the pronunciation is almost the same.

This piece of deliciousness is a rich yeast leven bread although you could be forgiven for thinking it a cake. I first saw them in the Alsace in France and I just knew that I had to make one or eventually two or three. The first hurdle was getting the right pan. They are traditionally baked in a terracotta mould that is glazed on the inside so that the bread does not stick. However, you know me, I prefer to use silicone and this year when I was in a market in Borgo Val di Taro, I saw just what I was after and snapped it up straight away.

This recipe that was given to me by a friend fits the shape perfectly and it has the benefit of being really, really easy. What more could you ask for?

So let's get cooking

20g fresh yeast or 1 pack of dried
500g Plain Flour
8 tablespoons Vegetable Oil
80g Sugar 
125ml milk
125g Dried apricots. I used the semi dry variety.
 50g Sultanas
3 Eggs
grated rind of half a lemon
a pinch of salt
50g Flaked or whole almonds
dusting sugar to finish

  1. Warm the milk to body heat and crumble in the yeast with a spoonful of sugar. Cover and leave somewhere warm to rise for about 10mins. If I am sure that the yeast is active I frequently miss out this step and carry straight on as soon as the yeast has dissolved. 
  2. Beat the eggs with the sugar to break them up and mix into the yeast mixture. You are not aiming for a foam here, just mix enough to disperse the egg mixture.
  3. In a large bowl put the flour, lemon rind, remaining sugar, oil and salt. Pour over the milk mixture and mix really well to incorporate everything. This is not really kneading as the mixture is too soft, but you will need to beat it until it is smooth.
  4.  Cover the mix and leave it to rise somewhere warm for about 45mins to 1 hour. It should at least double in size.
  5. Cut the apricots into smallish cubes, about 1 cm is good. Pour some boiling water over the sultanas and leave to cool. Strain. The sultanas should have plumped up by now.
  6. Add to them both to the yeast mix along with 30 g of the almonds.
  7. Butter the gugelhupf mould well. Yes even if it is a silicone one. sprinkle with the remaining flaked almonds. Distribute the mixture into the mould. Cover and leave to rise for at least 30 mins. 
  8. About 10 minutes before the gugelhupf is to go into the oven turn it on to 200 degrees C. Cook for about 45 mins. Cover with greaseproof paper if it is getting too brown.
  9. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 5 mins. Then turn out onto a cooling rack and dust with icing sugar. If you can get it high humidity sugar is best as it remains white. Icing sugar often disappears into the cake.
Eat for breakfast with some butter and apricot jam.

Mushroom Time

The wonderful porcini have finally made a decent appearance. They have been scarce of well hidden up till now but hubby came home with a good haul on Sunday and boy was I pleased.

Now, picking the mushrooms is only the first step. Drying them is equally important as, if you don't do it, they will decay and turn to mush. Not good.

Recipe suggestions:

Sugo con Fungi Porcini

Saturday, 22 June 2013

My new bread bin and a review

Recently I broke the bread bin that I had been given as a wedding present over 30 years ago. I won't tell you how many years over 30 it is because I can't believe it myself. The bread bin had served me well, but it was one of those fold top ones that will eventually break and once that happens there is nothing to do but, gulp, throw it away. So I was bread bin less until this fabulous replacement arrived.

Well, I must say that I am impressed. It is a solid piece of kit. Some of those bins that look like this one are really lightweight, but this is just heavy enough to make it feel like a good German car. It is quality and because it looks so good it has taken pride of place on my kitchen worktop.  

There are only three colours to chose from, flint, shutter blue and clay but strangely enough these three colours are really all that you need. They blend in with the kitchen rather than dominating it, so I am really happy with the colour choices. So while it take pride of place it certainly does not dominate.

Size wise it is big enough to take a large loaf of bread comfortably along with a few other tempting bakery treats. That means that if you make or buy bread that's not the standard square of supermarket mush, it will fit in this bin with ease. That's a big positive for me as my bread is always very far from standard. In fact I never know what size it will be. Makes it part of the excitement of making your own bread. Facts now: dimensions of H29cm x W32cm x D18cm

The bin is finished in a high quality powder coated steel that is super durable and will not taint the flavour of my loaves of lovingly crafted bread. Who wants a bread bin that will rust and spoil the flavour of the bread? If I have gone to the trouble of making a loaf of bread then I want to put it somewhere that I can trust. It is my baby after all. Eat it? 

This bin is a timeless classic. I remember way back in my childhood that there were bread bins that looked very much like these. They are the type of bin that will not go out of fashion.

So if you want to buy one they are available on the  Garden Trading Website. You won't be sorry.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Broccoli and Cauliflower Soup

I love soups. As far as I am concerned, they warm the sould as well as the belly so this is why I am particularly pleased with this broccoli and cauliflower soup as it does both of those things and then some. Now there is an added bonus to this soup and that is .... it is very low calorie. This is wonderful for those days, and we all have them, when you need to cut back and take a little fat off the belly. This soup is a way of filling your belly but not adding inches to it.

Let me tell you that you will love this enough to make it any time not just on the days when you want to reduce. Serve with hot buttered toast for a wonderful not skinny treat.

I worked out that this soup in total has only about 300 calories so that's just 75 calories per serving.

You will need?

400g of broccoli and cauliflower florettes. I tend to buy the ready prepared packs in the supermarket,
1 onion (about 100g)
1 medium carrot
1 stalk of celery
1 knorr stock cube
100ml milk
salt and pepper to taste

Basically all that you need to do is put all of the above ingredients except the milk into a saucepan. Cover with water. Just cover is best as you can adjust the liquid later.
Bring to the boil and simmer until all of the vegetables are really soft.
Blitz with a stick blender.
Add the milk and enough water to bring the quantity up to 1200ml. This will give you enough for 4 mugs full of soup. Reheat and serve.

Hunger pangs will be staved off and you will not feel at all guilty. Now where's the toast?

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Boston Cream Pie with a twist

I just love Boston Cream Pie. It's soft sponge is filled with creamy custard that melts in your mouth. If this is not good enough this flavour overload is enhanced by a topping of fabulous chocolate ganach. It is a cake of dreams and begs to be eaten alone so that you can sigh over every mouthful.

The twist? Use rum to flavour the cream.

To start you will make a light crumbly sponge. There are two possibilities for this cake: a Victorial sponge or a genoise. I chose to make the genoise as it is the lighter of the two. Also, as this cake needs to be stored in the fridge, the lower butter content of the genoise stops the sponge from firming up.

So start by making your cake.

Heat your oven to C 180.
Have a 23cm or 9 inch tin ready. Grease and flour it in readiness for your sponge.

I used 3 large free range eggs which were at room temperature.
100g caster sugar
100g SR flour
30g butter melted
a pinch of salt
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Start by breaking the eggs into a very clean and grease free bowl that is large enough to allow the eggs to expand when they have been beaten. Using a hand held whisk, beat the eggs until they are foamy.

The next step is to add the sugar. I was once told to heat the sugar before adding it to the eggs as this helps to create volume in the whisked eggs. I have always used this method when possible. It means that you don't have to have the eggs over  boiling water and to my mind this is no bad thing. Boiling water and electricity are not always good bed fellows. Whist the sugar and eggs together until they reach the ribbon stage. This will take about 10 minutes.

Now fold the sifted flour into the mix and then fold in the melted butter. Make sure that there are no streaks of flour or butter left. Be careful not to over mix as the sponge will not rise.

Cook in your preheated oven until golden and the sponge springs back when touched gently with your finger tip.  I did say gently. This is what it should look like when turned out onto a cooling rack.

NB I used a silicone baking form. I greased and floured it first as there is so little fat in the songe that I didn't want it to stick. As you see, it didn't.

I left the cake upside down as it gave a better surface to ice later on.

Allow your sponge to cool. Then transfer to a serving plate. Do it before you fill it an ice it. You will find that it is too soft to do it later. You will thank me for this advice.

While it's cooling make the pastry cream.

2 large egg yolks.
2 heaped tablespoons of sugar
1 heaped tablespoon of cornflour
1 teaspoon of vanilla or, for a real treat, 2 tbsp dark rum. Yumm
200ml whole milk

In a large mixing bowl, mix together the eggs and sugar until they are well blended. Beat in the flour and cornflour and set aside. Add the vanilla essence.

Bring the milk to the boil. I did mine in the microwave. Slowly pour half of the hot milk onto the egg mixture, whisking all the time, then add the remaining milk.

Bring the mixture back to the boil and simmer for one minute, whisking continuously, or until smooth.

Pour the cream into a clean bowl and top with cling film to prevent a skin forming.  Cool as quickly as possible. When cooled, refrigerate until needed.

So by this tile your cake will be well and truly cooled. Cut through the middle horizontally and fill the bottom half with the cooled pastry cream. Plese remember that the cream sets as it cools so if you put it on too soon it can run out and spoil the effect of the cake. As you can see, mine is fairly thick. If you have stouble setting your custard I have found a quick cheat. Mix half of the custard with some instant custard (about a tbs will usually do the trick) and heat in the microwave until thick. Then add to the remaining custard and leave to cool. Works a treat.

Put the top of the cake over the cream.

Now you can ice the cake with the chocolate ganach.

50 g dark chocolate of your choice chopped
75 ml double cream
1 teaspoon of oil.

This is simplicite itself.

Bring your cream to just below the boil. Add the chopped chocolate and oil and mix well. The chocolate will melt in the hot cream and will not need to be reheated. Allow to cool to a point where the ganach is still pourable but not so liquid that it will run straight off the sides of the cake.
Allow to set and then get a knife and dive in. You won't be disappointed.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

A plea for a recipe

In February I bought the Waitrose Kitchen Magazine, February 2013. from it I made a pear, caramel and peacan crumble tart. My husband said that it was one of the best tarts that I had ever made. My grandaughter thought it look so good that I must have bought it. 

Well what's the problem?

I lost the magazine....

Can anyone help?


Sunday, 13 January 2013

Crispy Chick Pea and Mackeral Croquettes

This is another in the series of 'Simple Supper' recipes even though I actually ate it for lunch.

The name of this post is quite a mouthful but the croquettes themselves are small, flavoursome and beautiful. I made them, gulp, because now is the time to reduce the tummy fat and these are low gi food. They are tasty though. So you won't feel hard done by for eating healthily.

So, Simply take:

1 tin of chickpeas
1 small tin of mackerel fillets.
1 tbsp capers
1 small egg. If your egg is large, then don't use it all as the croquettes will be too soft
Oil for frying.
A salad to serve.

All I did:

Put the drained chick peas in the bowl of the food processor with the entire contents of the tin of mackerel fillets. No need to drain the oil. Pulse until semi smooth.
Add the capers and the egg and pulse again, This will  break up the capers and mix in the egg.
Turn out into a bowl and refrigerate for about 30 mins.
Fry large spoonsful until crisp on both sides and cooked through.
Serve with a dresses salad.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Simply Supper - Take 1 tin ot Tuna

Do you remember that many years ago there were adverts for Sainsburys that started with "Simply take...?" Well, this is my take on that. (Pardon the pun).

This recipe will serve 2 hungry people.

Simply take

1 tin ot tuna
1 dessertspoon on chopped capers
10 cherry tomatoes, quartered
2 tbsp of olive oil
250 g of dry tagliatelle. Don't waste your money o the so called fresh stuff.

Put a large pan of salted water on to boil. When it has come to a good rolling boil throw in the pasta. stir and simmer gently until the pasta is cooked.

While the water is coming to a boil, warm some olive oil in a largish pan and add the chopped capers and quartered tomatoes. When they are warm through add the tuna that you have broken up slightly. Make sure that the sauce only heats rather than boils. This way you will retail the tase of the olive oil.

By this time the pasta should be cooked. Strain and add to the sauce. Toss ot all together and serve. Yum.

Simple Supper - Ham and Potato Soup

I thought that I would start a series of simple suppers for those days when you really don't know what to cooka nd it's a question of looking in the fridge and making quick decisions. However, like all quick decisions, there has to be some sort of planning beforehand. To this end, when you boil a piece of ham, keep the stock. It will keep for a few days in  the fridge or ages in the freezer.

This recipe is not precise, a bit like Nigel Slater's recipes at the moment, so make more or less according to how many people you are feeding and how much stock you have. I had about a pint of stock left in the fridge. So this made enough for 2.

Simply take
ham stock (there was onion and celery in the stock already)
1 carrot, chopped
about 8 small new potatoes, peeled and chopped into bite size pieces.
a fistful of ham chopped into bite size cubes
about 50g of frozen peas

Add the carrots to the stock and bring it to the boil. When the carrots and potatoes are cooked throw in the chopped ham and the peas. Simmer until the peas are cooked. Add about a teacup of milk and adjust seasoning. Enjoy.

Not only did i enjoy this soup, but it also gave me the opportunity to play around with photoshop too. The lighter edges are the result of this rather than light leekage in the camera.