Monthly Archives: March 2011

Cocktail in a macaron: Gin & Tonic

Today is Craig’s birthday, so Happy Birthday Craig (when you eventually get round to reading this)!

Now Craig is a big fan of gin, so obviously his birthday present just had to be something gin-related.  I decided to attempt to make Gin & Tonic macarons because I think macarons make brilliant presents – they’re something a little different, they look lovely, and I haven’t yet come across any good ones in St Andrews.   They also involve gin, so I was pretty sure they would go down well.  Providing they were tasty, obviously.

I wasn’t sure exactly how to go about making them though.  The gin would be incorporated into the filling, along with some lime zest and juice – that was straightforward enough.  I decided that a white chocolate ganache would be the best type of filling, simply because I find that a ganache can take more liquid (read: alcohol) than a buttercream.  The tricky part was working out how to incorporate the tonic.  I realised at this point that I actually had no idea what tonic tastes like.  I drink it all the time in G&Ts, but never on its own.  So I tasted it, and I think Kat’s description of “like bitter lemon and seltzer water” is pretty apt.  I can’t say I’m much of a fan.  So how on Earth was I going to include the tonic element?  I made myself a G&T (all in the name of culinary research, of course) and realised that whenever Kat, Craig or I make a G&T, the amount of gin that goes in effectively covers any taste the tonic might have contributed to the drink.  So I decided to add a bit of lemon zest, in an attempt to faintly echo the bitter lemon element of the tonic, but I felt that would be enough, because let’s be honest here, it’s all about the gin.

So how did they turn out?  Well, they were gin-y and lime-y.  And thus I think I can say that they were yummy.  The tonic flavour may have gotten slightly lost, but well, the tonic in a G&T is really there just to dilute the gin a little, so I don’t think that matters too much.  And anyway, Craig did manage to guess that they were supposed to be G&T macarons just from smelling them, so they can’t have been that far off.

Gin & Tonic macarons

Makes about 60 small macarons (so about 120 shells of 1.5/2 cm diameter)
Macaron shell recipe based on Mad About Macarons!
Ganache recipe adapted from Pure Gourmandise

I added a speckled pattern to the shells just for a little bit of colour.  Since the only colourful thing in a G&T is the lime, I went for green, which coincidentally also matches the bottle of Gordon’s gin that I used.  Make sure you leave these at least 24h before eating them, in order to allow the ganache to soak into the shells a bit.  They can be stored in an airtight box in the fridge – just remember to bring them out at least 30mins before eating them, so that you can appreciate the flavour fully!

Ingredients

For the macaron shells:
100g aged egg whites (age them for 4-5 days in a sealed jar in the fridge)
66g caster sugar
120g ground almonds
180g icing sugar
Green food colouring (optional)

For the ganache:
40g single cream
150g white chocolate
40ml gin
Zest of 1 lime + 1 tsp of lime juice
Zest of ½ lemon

Directions

To make the macaron shells:
1. Line three or four flat baking sheets with baking paper and set aside.  Prepare a piping bag with a plain nozzle.

2.  Blend the icing sugar and ground almonds together (don’t skip this step!)  Sift them through a medium sieve into a large bowl.  Sift them again if necessary.

3.  Make the French meringue by whisking the egg whites at room temperature (take them out of the fridge 2h beforehand) to glossy firm peaks, gradually adding the caster sugar.

4.  Incorporate the French meringue into the dry ingredients using a large spatula and mix well.  Now work on the mixture by pressing down well with the spatula, going backwards and forwards, to press out the oxygen from the egg whites (this is the macaronnage stage), until you have a smooth mixture.  Don’t do this for longer than 5 minutes.  The result should be a soft and brilliant mixture that forms a “ribbon” on the spatula.

5.  Transfer the mixture to the previously prepared piping bag and pipe out the desired size of rounds (mine were about 1.5-2cm in diameter).  Press the nozzle right down on the paper and finish off with a flourish to obtain a nice round.  Leave a good space between them so they can spread out.

6.  Leave to set for about 30mins (this helps to produce the feet).  Preheat the oven to fan-oven 160°C.  Pour a little green food colouring into a small dish, dip a paintbrush in the colouring (a clean one that isn’t used for actual painting, obviously), and flick the colouring across the shells whilst they set.  When you can feel that a skin has formed over the top, they are ready to go into the oven.

7.  Bake one tray at a time in the centre of the oven for about 8-10mins (to see if they are done, touch the top – if there is a “wobble,” leave them in 2-3mins longer).  Leave them to cool on the baking trays, and when they are completely cool, carefully remove them and pair them up by size.

To make the ganache filling:
8.  Whilst the macarons are setting and cooking, make the ganache filling.  Heat the cream, and as soon as it starts boiling, add the white chocolate (broken into pieces), the gin, the lime and lemon zest and the 1 tsp of lime juice, and mix with a wooden spoon until smooth (don’t let it boil or you will boil off the alcohol and we wouldn’t want that now, would we?).  Allow the mixture to thicken in the fridge (or freezer if necessary).

9.  Once cool, use a teaspoon to deposit a good dollop of  ganache onto one shell of each pair.  Then place the partner shell on top, and use a slight twisting motion to push the shell down onto the filling.

10.  Leave in the fridge for at least 24h before serving (I know, it’s difficult!  But so worth it!!)

Enjoy!

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Random Recipe #2: Roasted tomato & red onion salad

Another month, and another food blog challenge that I happen to have discovered…  Now I already participate in three monthly food blogging challenges (Breakfast Club, Mac Attack and We Should Cocoa) and as much as I love my blog and baking/cooking and posting new recipes, well, I am also supposed to be working on a dissertation.  A dissertation, I should add, that is worth a quarter of my final degree classification (no pressure).  So ya, three challenges are quite enough – priorities and all that…

But here’s the thing – we all have cookbooks full of recipes that, despite our best intentions, we never quite get around to trying out.  And Belleau Kitchen‘s Random Recipe challenge addresses exactly that: basically, it involves randomly picking a cookbook and then randomly picking a recipe within it, and then trying it out.  Genius!  So even though I’d decided to draw the line at three challenges, I couldn’t really not get involved in this one, could I?

So for this month, we had to line up our recipe books and pick the 18th from the left, which in my case was a French one, “La Cuisine des paresseuses,” which loosely translates as “Cooking for lazy people.”  It’s a lovely little book that my French Aunt and Uncle gave me for my 18th birthday (were they trying to tell me something?).  It’s full of tasty recipes that are straightforward and reasonably quick to prepare, which as a student, can be really helpful!  So I happily plucked it off the shelf, knowing that whichever recipe I landed on was unlikely to be particularly complicated or time-consuming in its preparation, meaning more time for dissertation-ing (totally a word).

The next step was to pick the actual recipe.  We’re supposed to flick through the book and stop randomly, but well, that’s not a particularly rigorous methodology (I won’t bore you with a mini analysis of the multiple sources of bias), so I had to be all scientific and use my trusty calculator to generate a random page number: page 42.  There were two recipes on this page, neither of which I’d tried before, so I had a choice between a roasted tomato and red onion salad or a tomato, broad bean and basil salad (page 42 happens to fall in the gloriously titled second chapter: “How to make a salad without dying of boredom.”  Could salad be the meaning of life?).  I was most tempted by the first option, because it’s a warm salad and it’s still pretty cold outside at the moment (after all, it is March).  This turned out to be a brilliant choice…!  Not only was it super easy and rather delicious, but it was quick to prepare (5-10 minutes to throw everything together) and I managed to read two papers whilst it was in the oven.  Hah!  Take that, dissertation.

Roasted tomato & red onion salad

Serves 2
Recipe from La Cuisine des paresseuses

The original recipe suggests either serving this salad as a side dish alongside, for example, fish, or as a starter or lunch with some goat’s cheese crumbled over the top and some good French bread.  I went for the second option, obviously with the added goat’s cheese, which actually works wonderfully because it perfectly balances the ever-so-slightly caramelised onions.  I sautéed the second portion the next day with some couscous (minus the goat’s cheese though) and that was scrumptious, too.  In a moment of sheer Frenchness, I automatically added garlic, even though it isn’t specified, and I also used some garlic-and-rosemary-infused olive oil that I happened to have.

Ingredients

4 firm tomatoes
2 red onions
1 clove garlic
4 sprigs of rosemary or thyme (or both!)
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp olive oil (I used garlic-and-rosemary-infused oil)
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
50g crumbly goat’s cheese (optional)

Directions

1.  Pre-heat the oven to 200°C.

2.  Quarter the tomatoes and onions and scatter them into an oven-proof dish with the herbs (in sprigs), and the roughly hashed garlic.  Drizzle with the olive oil and vinegar.

3.  Bake in the oven for about 1 hour, gently mixing the dish’s contents after 30 mins.  Season with salt and pepper once roasted and remove the herb sprigs and bay leaves (I stripped the leave form one of the rosemary sprigs and sprinkled them back into the salad).  Serve as a side dish or allow to cool slightly before crumbling the goat’s cheese over the top (optional) and serving with some French bread on the side.

Enjoy!

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Mac Attack #17: Blood orange & five-spice macarons

I was a little bit naughty last month and didn’t take part in the Mac Attack challenge.  But please, hear me out: the theme was centred around Valentine’s Day, and well, let’s just say I’m not such a fan of the whole Valentine’s Day thing.  So I hope I’ve made up for it this month!  The challenge for March is “Sugar and spice and everything… fruity” – so a seasonal fruit combined with a spice.  I got quite excited by this, because I thought hurrah!  Spring (which officially started yesterday) – that’s practically summer!  So I enthusiastically started looking up which fruits are coming into season here in the UK in March.  My enthusiasm was pretty short-lived.  Waitrose informed me that seasonal British specialities for March are: rosemary, smoked haddock and cucumbers.  Not particularly helpful in the fruit department (although cucumber is technically a fruit, but I immediately thought of cucumber sandwiches, and I feel that would only ever be appropriate for a theme related to cricket or afternoon tea).

Then I came across Eat the Seasons, a website that tells you which produce is in season each week of the year.  Ya, that’s right, it does it by week.  Now that is dedication!  I made these macarons last week, which was week 11, and I had a choice of: bananas, blood oranges, kiwi fruit, lemons, oranges, passion fruit, pineapple and pomegranate, all of which, I should add, are imported to the UK.  It’s funny because despite usually being winter fruits, citrus fruits always make me think of spring and summer – probably because they have such a refreshing taste.  So even though they are technically going out of season rather than coming in, the blood oranges at the greengrocer’s looked so good, and I just had to get some.  I also love the colour of Moro blood oranges – and red is a warm colour, so that totally fits with the change of season (because everybody knows that it’s warm in Scotland in spring, ha ha…  I wish).  So even though they might technically be nearing the end of their season, and the greengrocer’s didn’t have any Moros so mine weren’t blood-coloured, I still think they fit the theme.

The next step was to choose a spice to go with the blood orange.  My immediate thought was cinnamon, but I couldn’t do that.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the combination of cinnamon and orange, but it stinks of Christmas.  Cloves were also off the cards, for exactly the same reason.  Then I happened across a mouth-watering recipe for honey-glazed blood orange and five-spice tartelettes.  I was rather intrigued by the combination, so once I had finished drooling over the photos, I decided to be adventurous and attempt blood orange and five-spice macarons.  (And I also had to make something special to make up for missing last month’s Mac Attack, remember?)

The only thing left now was to work out how I wanted to make them.  The five-spice would obviously be added to the shells – for a start, it’s a dry ingredient, so that makes it easy, and also it would add a subtle speckled appearance to the shells.  How to incorporate the blood orange though?  I felt that a chocolate ganache of some sort might over-power the five-spice, and I wasn’t really feeling buttercream.  And then I had a minor epiphany: blood orange curd.  It would be fruity, not too heavy, and it wouldn’t (shouldn’t) overpower the five-spice.  So now you know why I made the curd last week!  Anyway, luckily my experiment worked, and everybody who tasted them said they liked them.  I actually made several people play “guess the flavour” and it was fun – I’m now a big fan of this game.  I was also very impressed when people guessed correctly since the flavours were subtle and I’ll be perfectly honest, if I hadn’t made them, I don’t think I would have ever managed to guess!

Blood orange & five-spice macarons

Makes about 70 small macarons (so about 140 shells of 1.5/2 cm diameter)
Macaron shell recipe based on Mad About Macarons!

The food colouring is totally optional, but I decide to make the macarons look like blood oranges so I made the shells orange and added dye to the curd when I was making it so that the inside of the macarons would look like the inside of a blood orange.  Make sure you leave these at least 24h before eating them, in order to allow the ganache to soak into the shells a bit.  They can be stored in an airtight box in the fridge – just remember to bring them out at least 30 mins before eating them, so that you can appreciate the flavour fully!

Ingredients

For the macaron shells:
120g aged egg whites (age them for 4-5 days in a sealed jar in the fridge)
79g caster sugar
120g ground almonds
144g icing sugar
2 tsp five-spice
Orange or yellow & red food colouring paste (optional)

For the filling:
About 200 ml blood orange curd (follow the link for the recipe)

Directions

To make the macaron shells:
1. Line three or four flat baking sheets with baking paper and set aside.  Prepare a piping bag with a plain nozzle.

2.  Blend the icing sugar, ground almonds and five-spice powder together (don’t skip this step!)  Sift them through a medium sieve into a large bowl.  Sift them again if necessary.

3.  Make the French meringue by whisking the egg whites at room temperature (take them out of the fridge 2h beforehand) to glossy firm peaks, gradually adding the caster sugar.  Add orange food colouring paste, or equal amounts of yellow and red (to make orange) just before the end and mix well (this is totally optional, but it just adds a bit of colour to the macarons, and it’s also kind of fun).

4.  Incorporate the French meringue into the dry ingredients using a large spatula and mix well.  Now work on the mixture by pressing down well with the spatula, going backwards and forwards, to press out the oxygen from the egg whites (this is the macaronnage stage), until you have a smooth mixture.  Don’t do this for longer than 5 minutes.  The result should be a soft and brilliant mixture that forms a “ribbon” on the spatula.

5.  Transfer the mixture to the previously prepared piping bag and pipe out the desired size of rounds (mine were about 1.5-2cm in diameter).  Press the nozzle right down on the paper and finish off with a flourish to obtain a nice round.  Leave a good space between them so they can spread out.

6.  Leave to set for about 30mins (this helps to produce the feet).  Preheat the oven to fan-oven 160°C.  When you can feel that a skin has formed over the top, they are ready to go into the oven.

7.  Bake one tray at a time in the centre of the oven for about 8-10mins (to see if they are done, touch the top – if there is a “wobble,” leave them in 2-3mins longer).  Leave them to cool on the baking trays, and when they are completely cool, carefully remove them and pair them up by size.

For the filling:
8.  Once the shells have fully cooled, use a teaspoon to deposit a good dollop of  blood orange curd onto one shell of each pair.  Then place the partner shell on top, and use a slight twisting motion to push the shell down onto the filling evenly.

9.  Leave in the fridge for at least 24h before serving (I know, it’s difficult!  But so worth it!!)

Enjoy!

PS – So that was a bit of an epic post.  Oops!  I seriously need to work on being more concise…  Sorry!

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White chocolate & lime cheesecake

This month’s We Should Cocoa is hosted by Chele at Chocolate Teapot, and the special ingredient is “Lime“.  Now when I think of limes, my first thought is Gin & Tonic, and my second is tequila shots (make of that what you will), neither of which have much to do with chocolate.  I considered making something chocolatey based around the idea of a G&T, but as much as I love gin, I wasn’t really convinced about how well the taste would go with chocolate.  And then I realised that I had been totally side-tracked by the thought of gin, and that the challenge ingredient was supposed to be lime.  Lime, not gin.  Lime.  Right, got it: lime.

So I scrapped the G&T idea (I made myself one to make up for it.  With a giant wedge of lime, just as a reminder), and started thinking about what kind of chocolate I thought would go best with lime.  I decided on white chocolate – the tartness of the lime should cut through the creaminess of the chocolate.  The next step was to work out what to actually make using this combination.  Cheesecake seemed the really obvious choice.  There’s just one minor detail: I don’t like cheesecake (shock, horror, etc.).  Whether baked or not, my issue is with the texture – it just grosses me out and makes me shudder.  This upsets me, because I always think that cheesecake just looks so good.  I occasionally manage to trick myself into thinking that maybe if I try it this time, I’ll like it.  So I order it.  And taste it.  And get grossed out and shudder a lot, and then somebody else has to finish it whilst I sit there feeling slightly miserable about missing out on dessert.  So whilst white chocolate and lime cheesecake sounded like a great idea, A) I don’t actually know how to make it, and B) who was going to eat it?  Certainly not me…  (Shudder shudder.)

Then suddenly it hit me: my flatmate loves cheesecake.  And she has a March birthday (it was yesterday).  I would make her a cheesecake for her birthday!  And of course, because there would be loads of people at her party, it would get eaten up (provided it tasted ok) and I wouldn’t be simultaneously tempted/grossed out by cheesecake leftovers in our fridge.  Genius!  Well, it would have been a genius plan, but she decided to go out for tea instead of throwing a party.  However, I’d made up my mind to attempt cheesecake, and wasn’t about to be thwarted by such a tiny detail, so I made her a mini cheesecake.  (Actually I made two, in case one went wrong and also because I wanted to try some, and it would be bad form to pinch cake off the birthday girl.  Guess what?  I still detest cheesecake.  The tester cheesecake went to Kat and Craig, who loved it.)  My flatmate proclaimed that it was tasty though, hurrah!

White chocolate & lime cheesecake

Makes 2 x 9cm cakes
Adapted from BBC Food

As you can see on the photo, the cheesecake comes out quite thick, but since it is a small cake, that’s fine.  According to my flatmate, it’s quite a rich cheesecake, so one mini cake would probably be enough for about 3 people.  I originally wanted to decorate it with lime green edible glitter, but I couldn’t find any, so I used green sugar instead.

Ingredients

35g unsalted butter
6 Digestive biscuits
50g white chocolate
1 unwaxed lime
12oml double cream
240g cream cheese
40g icing sugar
Green sugar or edible glitter, to decorate (optional)

Directions

1.  Line a baking tray with baking paper, and also cut out two strips of baking paper to line the insides of two 9 cm chef’s ring (make sure the paper is a bit longer than the inside circumference of the ring so that there is some overlap). Crush the digestive biscuits (putting them in zip-lock bag and using a rolling pin works really well).

2.  Melt the butter in a small saucepan, and add the crushed biscuits.  Stir until all the butter has been absorbed by the biscuits.  Remove from the heat and split the biscuit mixture between the two rings.  Press the mixture down into the bottom of each of the chef’s rings, making sure it is compacted and even, and then refrigerate for 1 hour, until set.

3.  Whilst the biscuit mix is setting, prepare the filling.  Grate the white chocolate, and zest and juice the lime (it should give 2-3 tsp of juice).  Whip the cream into soft peaks in a medium-sized bowl.

4.  In a large bowl, whip the cream cheese lightly until soft, then add the icing sugar, and the lime zest and juice.  Mix until incorporated.  Gently fold in the whipped cream and the grated chocolate, until smooth.  Spoon the mixture equally over the two bases, gently pressing it into the sides of the rings so that there are no gaps between the filling and the base.  Refrigerate for a further 2 hours until the filling is set.

5.  Transfer the cake (still in the chef’s ring) to a serving plate by carefully sliding it off the baking paper on the tray.  To remove the chef’s ring from around the cake, wipe the outside with a hot cloth and gently work it off.  Then carefully unpeel the baking paper from the sides of the cake.  Decorate with edible glitter, coloured sugar or even cocoa powder (or all three), and serve.

Enjoy!

PS – Ya, I decided to make something that I know my flatmate loves and is picky about, that I’ve never made before, and that I can’t eat so I couldn’t check if it tasted good or not.  And I decided to make it as a gift.  I’m well aware of the many fails in logic.

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Resolution #1: Some progress!

I’ve always loved looking at photos of food.  I have a distinct preference for recipe books that have photos in them – not only will a mouth-watering photo make me want to cook the recipe that much more, but it helps to gauge if whatever I’m cooking looks vaguely like it’s supposed to.  I came across the world of “food porn” back in December, and promptly decided that I would start submitting my food photos to the several sites (FoodGawker, TasteSpotting, Photograzing and DessertStalking).  I also decided to make it one of my resolutions (or challenges) for 2011 to have a photo accepted on each of those four sites (not necessarily the same photo – let’s not get ahead of ourselves here).

So far, most of the photos I’ve submitted have only been accepted by Photograzing and DessertStalking.  FoodGawker seems to have issues with the lighting in my photos and is very adamant that my photos are “unsharp” and TasteSpotting appears to have serious issues with the composition of my photos (I think about 90% have been rejected for “composition”).  It’s so subjective that it’s a bit frustrating after a while, particularly when I think I’ve got a brilliant photo, but nobody else appears to agree.  Take the following crêpe photo – I personally thought it was great and I really thought that it would be the one to crack the two elusive sites.  It wasn’t.  FoodGawker thought it had “low lighting and/or was underexposed,” and TasteSpotting deemed it “not sharp” (not bitter about it, nope, not at all).

However much I may disagree, there’s not much to be done except to try and take a better photo for the next post, submit that, and wait and see whether it gets accepted or rejected (whilst expecting rejection)…  I posted yesterday about blood orange curd, and to be perfectly honest, I don’t really think the following photo of the curd was all that great.  In fact, I wasn’t even going to submit it, but I thought well, the worst that can happen is another rejection, so I might as well.  (I also may have been looking for some procrastination, but shhh!)

Well thank goodness I did!  Because TasteSpotting accepted it!  (Incidentally, guess what?  The very same photo was rejected by FoodGawker for “Photo/food composition.”  Go figure!)  I nearly died of shock (ok, not really).  I nearly died of shock a second time (again, not really, but close) when I saw that 107 people clicked through from TasteSpotting yesterday after seeing the photo, and so far today, 141 people have clicked through.  My blog usually gets about 30 views a day, so, uhm, WOW – this is kind of extraordinary!  And hello to all you lovely new people!

So I just felt the need to share this small personal victory with you…  I now just have FoodGawker left to crack in order to fulfill my resolution.  And I will.  Eventually.  But I will!  Anyhow, time to head to the pub to watch the last 6 Nations match of the year, France v Wales (Allez les Bleus!), so I just have one last photo to share with you:

Bring it on, FoodGawker.

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It’s enough to curdle your blood (orange)

Just to reassure you, I don’t think I’ve produced anything blood-curdling in the kitchen recently (or anywhere else for that matter).  I did, however, make blood orange curd.  Get the title now?  Oh ok, so it was a dreadful pun.  I clearly take wittiness to a whole new level (a blood-curdling level of bad?).  Anyway, now that we’ve all recovered from my comedic genius, I will move on swiftly (and with style) and tell you about the food that kindly provided me with such an awful (and unoriginal) play on words.

So this is actually a bit of a preliminary post for a recipe I’ll be blogging about next week.  You’ll have to wait and see what it is, but here’s a (really helpful) clue: it involves blood orange curd.  Bet you wouldn’t have ever guessed that…  You’re going to have to to wait until then to find out exactly why I was faffing around with blood oranges, but the point is, I needed to make curd (I actually have no reason to be so mysterious about this.  But it’s kinda fun, so just humour me a little…).  I’d never actually made curd before and, for some reason, I was convinced that it would be difficult.  Although a little time-consuming since it has to be stirred constantly so you can’t do anything else at the same time, it turned out to be ridiculously easy to make!  Hurrah!

As I ranted about briefly mentioned in my last post, it rained the entire weekend, and then continued to rain on Monday and Tuesday, too.  Four days of rain (whilst it rains often enough here, it’s unusual for it to rain continuously for so long).  Yuk.  Tuesday was particularly depressing, because not only had it already been raining for three days, but it was also the heavy, torrential-downpour sort of rain with added mist.  This is how wonderful it was on my way back from a meeting down at the marine labs:

Luckily, blood oranges are a rather wonderful fruit to use in such disgusting weather.  I unfortunately couldn’t get any Moro blood oranges (they’re the really spectacularly coloured ones) here in St Andrews, so I had to make do with a slightly half-arsed-looking variety, but they still had loads of flavour, just like a blood orange should.  And they were still of a suitably cheerful colour, although the curd was looking more peachy than red, so I added a splash of red food colouring just to get the colour.  I only had “poppy red” colouring though, so the curd ended up bright red, not blood red.  But I’m totally ok with that: it’s far better than peach.  I have about half a jar left, so I predict that curd and crumpets will be happening very soon in my life.  Yummy.

Blood orange curd

Makes enough to fill a small 300ml jar
Adapted from Waitrose

You can use curd in loads of different ways: on crumpets, on toast, to make dessert canapés, on sponge cake, in cupcakes, etc.  The curd will keep for about a week in the fridge.  Adding food colour is totally optional, but I wanted it for the presentation.

Ingredients

1 unwaxed blood orange
½ unwaxed lemon
55g butter
110g caster sugar
2 eggs + 1 egg yolk
Red food colouring (optional)

Directions

1.  Zest and juice the blood orange and the ½ lemon into a small bowl.  In another small bowl, beat the two eggs and the egg yolk together well.

2.  Melt the cubed butter in a large heat-proof bowl over a simmering pan of water (make sure that the water doesn’t reach the bottom of the bowl).

3.  Add the sugar and the zest and juice from the blood orange and lemon, followed by the eggs.  If you’re using food colouring, add a few drops in, too.  Stir the mixture carefully and constantly with a spatula, making sure the mixture doesn’t boil.  Once the mixture coats the back of the spatula (turn the spatula flat and run your finger through the mixture coating it – if you can draw a line through the mixture and it doesn’t re-fill, then it’s done), remove from the heat.

4.  If using the curd straightaway, pour into a bowl, otherwise, pour into a sterilised glass jar.  Allow to cool (it will thicken further) before sealing and storing in the fridge.

Enjoy!

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Of penguins and porridge

I have serious issues with the Scottish weather.  This isn’t a new development, far from it, but I was particularly reminded of this over the weekend.  At the beginning of March, we had beautiful weather (and in fact at the end of February too, since I managed to end up with a sunburnt nose whilst fieldworking) – granted it wasn’t 25°C let’s-hit-the-beach-in-our-bikinis weather, but it was still warm enough during the day to swap my boots for ballet flats.  This is a major thing for me, because I get cold really easily.  The weather last week was a bit iffy – mostly sunny during the day, with a few unexpected rain showers in the evenings, but the main issue was the cold wind (and associated occasional horizontal rain).  St Andrews is coastal, so it tends to be quite windy anyway, but there were several days where walking down the street felt like you were participating in some sort of wind tunnel experiment.  Consequently, not only did I have to switch back to boots, but I spent most of last week sporting what can only be described as a bit of a macaroni penguin (Eudyptes chrysolophus) hairstyle.  In case you don’t know, this is what a macaroni penguin looks like (from National Geographic Stock):

I know, I know, it’s a HOT look.  Though I didn’t have the yellow-and-black thing going on (how impressive would it be if the wind could do that?!), just the crazy side tufts.  And this is coming from somebody whose hair is usually always at least a little bit messy, and accepts it as such.  So anyway, despite the macaroni penguin hair, at least it was still mostly sunny.  Now I know it can’t be sunny forever, but it’s very nearly officially Spring, and I was quite a fan of this whole it’s-getting-warmer-let’s-pretend-it’s-nearly summer thing.  However, the weather clearly had other plans, because the temperatures dropped and it rained the entire weekend.  In true Scottish style, we were treated to every possible kind of rain – fat rain, misty drizzly rain, sideways rain, etc.  I even got caught in some upwards rain at one point (apparently Scottish weather hasn’t got the hang of gravity yet).  Oh and it briefly hailed, too.

This return to wet, wintry weather resulted in a sudden craving to have porridge for breakfast.  This happens to tie in rather well with this month’s Breakfast Club, hosted by Taste Space, who has chosen the theme “Whole grains.”  I hadn’t really decided what I wanted to do for the challenge yet, but porridge fits the bill perfectly, because guess what?  Porridge oats are whole grains, hurrah!  I get the impression that “Whole grains” were chosen because they are healthy, and we were probably supposed to come up with a healthy breakfast, which this might have been, if I hadn’t been slightly over-enthusiastic with the quantities of honey and whisky that I added the first time I made this (resulting in a great start to the day!).  Oh well.  It’s still whole grain-based.  And whisky is made from barley, and that’s a whole grain, too…  So ya, heather honey and whisky porridge – whole grains all round!  Oh and it’s yummy, too – it’s still raining (torrential at the moment) so I made it again for breakfast today (with slightly more sensible quantities of everything, as in the recipe below).

Heather honey & whisky porridge

Serves 1
Adapted from BBC Food

You could use clear honey and spiced rum instead of the heather honey and whisky.  Or any other combination of flavours.  I suppose the whisky (or rum) is optional, but why wouldn’t you want to add it?  I used Glenfarclas 10 year, because I think it tastes a bit like fruitcake, and I decided that was appropriate for breakfast.

Ingredients

40g porridge oats
2 tbsp double cream, plus extra to serve
200ml whole milk
1 tbsp soft brown sugar
1 tbsp whisky
1 tbsp Scottish heather honey

Directions

1.  Add the oats, cream, milk, sugar and whisky to a small saucepan and simmer over a gentle heat, stirring occasionally (always clockwise if you’re a purist.  Before you ask, I have no idea why.) until thickened to your liking.

2.  Remove from the heat, pour into a bowl, stir in the honey and drizzle a little bit of extra double cream over the top.  If you like your porridge really sweet, sprinkle a pinch of brown sugar over the top.

Enjoy!

PS – Dear Scottish weather, could you please stop raining now?  Thanks ever so much.  Yours, etc., M.

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The perfect end to a data analysis session: Snickerdoodle blondies

The wonderful thing about fieldwork is that once you’ve knackered yourself out collecting all the data, you usually get to pull your hair out trying to analyse them before then attempting to write up the results into a vaguely intelligent-sounding report.  About two weeks ago, my Marine Acoustics fieldwork successfully reduced me to the point of only being able to muster up just enough energy to bake apple and raisin buttermilk muffins.  Having recovered from the fieldwork, it was time for some data analysis fun last Sunday with Kat and Craig.  As I mentioned in my last post, we started things off with lunch, and since I live right next to the cinema, we’d been intending to follow lunch up with a film (if you’re thinking that this all sounds suspiciously like a severe case of procrastination, then you would be correct).  However, the cinema plan was somewhat thwarted by a broken projector.  So we had to spend our afternoon actually doing the data analysis…

Basically, we were determining the underwater transmission loss over distance of a simulated dolphin whistle played out from a speaker submerged at the end of the pier.  I won’t bore you with the details, but about 2 ½ hours later, we’d calculated the transmission losses, plotted a couple of good graphs and spent a fair amount of time faffing around (making tea and faffing around were my main contributions).  So with that done, we started talking about food, which rapidly progressed to looking at food porn and recipes.  For some reason there was an over-abundance of snickerdoodle-themed recipes.  Perhaps it was Snickerdoodle Sunday or something (I don’t know if that exists, but it should – it sounds like something out of a Dr Seuss book).

So aside from sounding fun, what exactly are snickerdoodles?  Kat explained snickerdoodle cookies to us as basically a sort of soft-ish, cinnamon-y, sugary cookie with a crackled top.  I think they sound totally amazing.  We came across a recipe for snickerdoodle blondies that looked particularly tempting.  (In case you’re wondering, blondies are basically brownies that aren’t chocolate-based.)

I’m sorry, what was that?  Cinnamon sugar brownies?  Uhm, hello, yes please!  I was pretty sure that I had all the necessary ingredients, so the data analysis session was declared over, and we migrated to the kitchen for a baking session.  It turned out that I didn’t have enough flour (Craig obligingly went on a quick supermarket run), and then it turned out that I didn’t have enough light brown sugar, either.  So we just added dark sugar, and then dark brown muscovado when the dark sugar ran out, too.  The end result was actually rather scrumptious, and I think the dark sugars added extra flavour to the blondies.  I had a couple for breakfast the next day, spread with a bit of butter – they made for a great start to the day!

Snickerdoodle blondies

Makes about 15 squares
Recipe adapted from Tracey’s Culinary Adventures

We didn’t sift the sugars so the dark brown muscovado stayed in little clumps which actually worked out wonderfully as it resulted in little concentrations of molasses-like yumminess throughout the blondies.  I used a smaller baking tin than the one specified in the original recipe, so the blondies were a lot thicker, which I really liked.

Ingredients

375g all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
Pinch of salt
225g unsalted butter, softened
50g light brown sugar
220g soft dark brown sugar
170g dark muscovado sugar
2 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Directions

1.  Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.  Lightly butter a 19 x 25 cm dish.

2.  Sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt into a medium bowl and stir together.

3.  In a large bowl, cream the softened butter and the three brown sugars together using an electric whisk on medium speed until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each one.  Beat in the vanilla.  Switch the mixer to low speed and gradually add the flour mixture, until just combined.  Using a spatula, ensure that any flour at the bottom of the bowl has been mixed in.

4.  Scoop the batter into the baking tin, pushing it down and spreading it evenly (it’s easiest just to use your hands).  Combine the granulated sugar and remaining cinnamon in a small ramekin and sprinkle it evenly over the top of the batter.

5.  Bake for 25-30 mins, until the surface springs back when pressed.  Remove the entire pan to a wire rack and allow to cool fully before cutting into squares.

Enjoy!

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A first adventure at the St Andrews Farmers’ Market

The Farmers’ Market in St Andrews takes place on the first Saturday morning of every month.  I’ve never quite managed to make it – either I’ve forgotten that it’s happening and made other plans, been put off by foul weather or accidentally overslept.  But after living in St Andrews for 3 ½ years, I finally got my act together, and went with Craig on Saturday.  Ya, I know, 3 ½ years – about time!  I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting, but I was pleasantly surprised by the wide variety of produce!  I could happily have bought about half the market, but luckily managed to restrict myself to a jar of Mojito jelly, some Feta-stuffed red peppers and two types of cheddar.  This was obviously due to my brilliant self-control and had nothing to do with forgetting to check that I had enough cash with me (because I would never be that supremely disorganised, nope, not me).  The stuffed peppers went into a salad for lunch, but I haven’t made any specific plans for the jelly yet – I’ll blog about it when I do.  For today though, I would really just like to share my love for the cheddar with you.

The Isle of Arran Cheese Shop had a stand with different flavoured cheddars, including herbed ones (chives, etc.), a mustard cheddar, a smoked oak one and even a chilli flake cheddar.  But the two that caught my eye were the Arran whisky cheddar and the claret cheddar.  I’ve tried their “normal” cheddar before and liked it, so I would probably have bought them anyway, but we were able to taste them and they turned out to be even more marvellous than I’d expected.  There was no way I was leaving the stand empty-handed (thank goodness Craig lent me some money or this could have been a bit of an issue) and I ended up taking three cheddars (one whisky and two clarets) home with me…

On Sunday, Kat and Craig came over to do some data analysis for one of our modules, but since we’re practically incapable of doing anything that doesn’t involve food, it made sense for us to start off with lunch.  This was obviously the perfect occasion to share some of my newly-acquired Farmers’ Market cheddar in the form of a claret cheddar and onion quiche.  Oh yes.  It turned out rather delicious.  That’s really all there is to say about it, ha ha.  I wish I could take all the credit for it, but when you use good quality, super-tasty ingredients, it’s difficult to go wrong with them (unless you burn them, obviously, or do something really weird).

Cheddar & onion quiche

Serves 6-8 as a starter, 4 as a main course
Recipe from my imagination

This quiche works as a starter, lunch or light dinner, and can be served warm or cold.  Whether you choose to use a flavoured cheddar or not, make sure you pick one that has taste!  I added rosemary because I had some sprigs in the freezer (it freezes well) and it goes with my chosen cheddar, but if you’re using a different flavoured cheddar, make sure to change the herbs to match it.

Ingredients

Quiche pastry (click for recipe)
1 large onion
2 cloves garlic
2 eggs
4 tbsp crème fraîche
2 long sprigs of fresh rosemary (about 2 tbsp of stripped fresh leaves)
250g of cheddar, grated
2 tsp Dijon mustard (optional)

Directions

1.  Roll out the pastry to about 3-4mm thickness and line a well-buttered 24 or 26cm tarte tin with it.  Trim the edges and prick the pastry with a fork.  Leave to rest in the fridge for about 30 mins whilst you prepare the quiche filling.  Pre-heat the oven to 170°C.

2.  Roughly dice the onion and chop the garlic cloves.  Sauté them in some oil until softened and just golden.

3.  Beat the eggs in a large bowl, add the crème fraîche, the stripped rosemary leaves (I was a bit short on time, so I didn’t chop the leaves, but you can if you’re really motivated) and some pepper and mix well.  Add 200g of the grated cheddar and the (fairly) cooled onions and garlic and mix well.  Add a little more crème fraîche if you feel this is necessary.

4.  Remove the tarte tin from the fridge, spread the mustard thinly over the base (this is optional, but it helps to bring out the flavours in the quiche), pour the cheddar and onion mix over the top and spread it evenly.  Sprinkle the remaining grated cheddar over the top.

5.  Cook for 30-40mins, until the pastry is golden and a toothpick comes out clean (if the top is getting a little too brown, cover with tin foil).  Serve hot or cold with a simple salad on the side.

Enjoy!

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Pancake Day: The perfect occasion to end my crêpe drought!

Today is Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras, the last day before the beginning of Lent…  Now, I’ll be perfectly honest with you, I don’t observe Lent in the slightest, but since Shrove Tuesday is all about over-indulging on good food, I’ll happily (enthusiastically, in fact) get involved!  I think it might be quite a British thing, but Shrove Tuesday is also known as Pancake Day.  Ya, that’s right, a whole day dedicated to pancakes.  According to the font of all knowledge that is Wikipedia, this is because pancakes were (and still are) a great way to use up rich foods such as eggs, sugar and milk which were often avoided or used as little as possible during Lent.

A whole day dedicated to these - YES!

Now, I’ve been helping my mum make crêpes since I was about 5.  Well, by “helping,” what I really mean is just generally getting in the way and watching, but that’s the best way to learn!  For as long as I can remember my mum has had the same crêpe pans, bought in France and carted around the world with us.  By the time we moved to Norway (when I was 10), I’d progressed to actually being vaguely useful and was given the job of flipping the crêpes, which I was pretty good at.  Then one day it all went horribly wrong: instead of landing back in the pan, the crêpe I had just flipped landed on my wrist.  Ouch.  My automatic reaction was to drop the crêpe pan.  Crash bang boom, it hit the floor, and it has had a massive slight dent ever since.  Despite being dented, the pan was still perfectly usable (the crêpes always came out slightly uneven – they still tasted wonderful though) so my mum kept it.  Guess what she gave me when I moved to university?  Ya, that’s right, the dented crêpe pan.  She also very kindly bought me a snazzy non-dented Tefal one (it goes so much quicker with two pans!).

So what’s all this about a crêpe drought?  Well, this summer, a very unfortunate incident happened.  Let’s just say that it involved tuna steaks being fried (one might almost say burnt) in my little dented crêpe pan by somebody who was unaware that it was not a frying pan.  Needless to say, this didn’t go down so well (to put it mildly).  I know it might sound a little ridiculous, especially considering that it’s already dented, but because it’s one of the pans that I learnt to make crêpes in, I am deeply attached to it, and I’ve been slightly too scared (and still a little too angry) to test it in case it turned out to be completely ruined.  Thus ensued about six months of my life with a distinct lack of crêpes.  But I realised this weekend that I was going to have to face up to it eventually, so for the first time since the Tuna Incident, out came the crêpe pans!  The first couple came out with a slight fishy whiff, but after those it seems to be fine (thank goodness!).  Hurrah!  The crêpe drought is over!

So, back to Pancake Day – the possibilities are endless, but in celebration of my dented crêpe pan not being ruined, I thought I’d just share my basic crêpe recipe with you.  You need the basics to build on anyway, right?  This batter works with both savoury and sweet fillings (ham, cheese, jams, Nutella, honey, whipped cream and fruit, etc.) so be as imaginative as you like!  Aside from crêpes flambées, I think my favourite filling has to be the oh-so-tasty combination of lemon juice and sugar, which I realise is incredibly generic, but the flavours just work so well and it reminds me of my childhood.

Crêpes

Serves 2-3 people
Recipe from my mum

These crepes work with both savoury and sweet fillings, so you can easily make a whole meal out of them, and you can add anything you like to them. Any leftover crêpes can easily be frozen (though make sure you put either cling-film or baking paper between each crêpe), and once defrosted they can be stuffed and baked to make a lunch or light dinner.  Just a word of warning: the first and last crêpe usually always look pretty unpresentable.  Looks like you just have to eat them yourself – what a shame…

Ingredients

250g all-purpose flour
500ml milk
2 eggs
1 tbsp oil (rapeseed or vegetable oil) plus extra for the pan
Pinch of salt

Directions

1.  Add all the ingredients (it helps to sift the flour) to a large bowl and thoroughly combine using an electric whisk.

2.  Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least an hour.

3.  The batter will thicken a little in the fridge, so add 1-2 ladles of water (this depends on how long it sits in the fridge for – 1 hour is about 1 ladle of water, 2 hours requires about 1 ½ or 2 ladles) and stir well.

4.  Pour some oil into a little ramekin or dish, and using some kitchen roll, wipe oil across your crêpe pan and heat it over a low to medium heat.  Once the pan is hot, pour a ladle of crêpe batter (this will obviously depend on the diameter of your pan, you may need a little less, or a little more) into your pan and by twisting the pan, make sure that the batter covers the entire surface of the pan.

5.  Allow to cook a few minutes, and once the crêpe comes away from the pan and is golden on the underside, flip it and cook the other side for a few minutes.  You know it’s done when it has browned slightly.

6.  Either eat immediately, or put on a plate covered by a second plate to keep them warm before serving.

7.  Use the kitchen roll to lightly re-oil the crêpe pan, and make sure that the pan is hot again before adding the batter to make the next crêpe.

Enjoy with whatever toppings take your fancy!

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Filed under Ramblings, Recipes, Savoury Foods, Sweet Foods