malt caramels

Hot Buttered Rum Caramels

malt caramels

A few years into living in Brixton, I started drinking rum as my go to drink. Previously that had been gin which was my loyal weekend tipple throughout my late teens and twenties. My friend Jo and I used to sit in the park watching the world go by on sunny days when we first moved to London with matching plastic glasses, a bottle of Gordon’s, some slimline tonic and a sliced lime in a plastic bag. But somewhere along the line, my tastes moved on and gin and tonic is an occasion drink for me these days.

Living in a heavily Caribbean area, it’s not really that strange that my allegiances have switched to rum. I prefer dark rum, preferably something spiced and have learned that it’s an excellent spirit for drinking either neat or mixed. Hot Brixton days often involve rum drunk long with soda water so that they are very thirst quenching and not particularly likely to get you drunk.

In the winter though I’ve become a huge fan of hot buttered rum. A big favourite in Brixton Village because it warms you up more than you’d think possibly when the wind sweeps through those avenues, I was introduced to it at Snugg (the name starts to make more sense now!) and have made several versions at home including this one with spiced quince rum. This year though I’m taking it easy on the seasonal booze and have turned my attention to making sweet treats instead.

Inspired by this recipe for homemade caramels by Diana Henry, I got my sugar thermometer out. I tweaked it to use condensed milk instead of cream (cheaper when like me you are prone to burning sugar based dishes) and added some spices along with a big glug of dark rum and got my buttered rum fix in a chewy caramel way instead. It’s very easy if unlike me you prepare well first and pay attention while you are making them.

Buttered Rum Caramels (makes about 65)

  • 175ml condensed milk
  • 60g salted butter
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 75ml dark rum (I use Bacardi Oakheart which is excellent and easy to get)
  • 250g white sugar
  • 160g golden syrup

Start by lining a 8 inch square dish or baking tray with greaseproof paper. Oil it lightly with a flavourless vegetable oil and set it aside.

Pour the condensed milk in a saucepan, add 30g of the butter, the salt and all the spices. Warm it through to infuse the spices and melt the butter but don’t let it boil. If you are doing this on an electric cooker do it on the ring behind the one where you’ll melt the sugar so you have a cold area on the hob so you can take the sugar off the heat for ease. Take the pan off the heat and add the rum. Set aside.

In a large deep pan (I used my Le Cresuet) heat the the sugar and the golden syrup together on a medium heat, stirring occasionally to help melt the sugar and prevent it burning. Once it is molten, turn the heat up and without moving the sugar around too much, heat to 155℃. I used a thermometer to make life easier here.

Take the pan off the heat the second it hits 155℃ and pour in the still warm spiced condensed milk. It may spit and bubble slightly so be careful. Stir it well to make sure it is smooth and return it to the heat until it reaches 127℃. Take it off the heat again and pour it into your lined tray.

Leave the caramel to cool for about 5 hours. Then lift the greaseproof paper out and cut the caramel into bite sized squares and wrap in 10cm squares of waxed or greaseproof paper. I got my rather festive looking stuff from Ebay but also used plain white. The caramel is soft enough to be able to roll up nicely. Store in an airtight container for up to a month. These make a lovely gift and are basically a very grown up version of Highland Toffee bars from my childhood.

 

coconut jam

Slow Cooker Caramel Coconut Jam

coconut jam 

Theoretically I have the most fantastic simple slow cooker idea for a Christmas gift for you today. However when you taste it, you’ll fall so in love with it that you might want to hoard all the jars to yourself and sit in eating it off the spoon while you wrap something from the pound shop instead.

I hadn’t heard of coconut jam until very recently. My local branch of Marks and Spencer has gone a bit upmarket with lots of the posh gourmet food products you buy for people at Christmas and while I was circling the aisles going green with envy at all the stuff I could never justify buying, I saw a jar of coconut jam. Interest piqued, I lifted it and saw that it was coconut cream cooked down til soft and jammy and highly popular in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. I took a snap of the jar and went home to research it.

I have a pretty unerring knack of being able to adapt things to the slow cooker these days and the more I read about coconut jam or its Singaporean name of kaya, the more I suspected I could make something really good here. As is my wont with anything from Singapore, I checked out Shu Han’s fab blog Mummy I Can Cook to see what she had to say on the subject. Two paragraphs in and I knew I had to make this.

Practically the national obsession out there, it’s usually served as kaya toast on white toast with butter and some hard boiled eggs with it. I eat eggs for breakfast every morning, but some reason, the idea of eggs and coconut together doesn’t appeal to me. (I’m very fussy about eggs for breakfast. I don’t like the whites and yolks mixed together, fried eggs must not be crispy and chilli can only accompany them when I feel like it. French toast cannot be the savoury eggy bread. This is the law in my house.)

Instead my eye was drawn to the variations on kaya. I couldn’t really be authentic as kaya relies on pandan or screwpine leaf for a distinctive flavour to cut through the richness of the coconut and I have no idea where you’d find it in the UK. I read on. The Hainanese variety caramelises the sugar first for a darker stickier version and I decided to tweak this into a very multicultural cross between kaya and dulce de leche as few things I’ve done have pleased people more from the slow cooker (see page 199 of Slow Cooked) . The result was even better than that sounds and is spectacular on toast, even if might technically be better described as a curd than a jam.

Slow Cooker Caramel Coconut Jam (makes 5 x 250ml jars)

  • 250g sugar
  • 2 x 200g block creamed coconut
  • 1 x 400ml tin of coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 4 whole eggs
  • 2 egg yolks

As with any dish involving the heating of sugar, get everything ready first. Speed is imperative to prevent things burning. Grate your blocks of creamed coconut using a box grater onto a plate and set aside. Open the coconut milk as well.

Put the sugar in a heavy bottomed saucepan and allow it to melt over a medium heat. Don’t stir too much. When it starts to colour very slightly, put the creamed coconut in and stir well. The sugar will continue to colour as will the creamed coconut. Keep stirring like crazy. Don’t let the coconut catch on the bottom of the pan. Once it starts to melt, add the coconut milk and stir it all well with a balloon whisk. It will continue to darken in colour, so keep stirring until everything is melted together and a lovely golden caramel colour.

Take off the heat immediately and stir the vanilla in. Leave to cool slightly for about 15 minutes in the pan. Then beat the eggs in and pour into a lidded plastic pudding basin. Put the lid on and place the basin in the slow cooker. Pour boiling water half way up the basin. Cook on low for 3 hours without disturbing it.

At the end of three hours, the coconut cream and milk will have reduced to a caramel and the eggs will have caused it to set like a custard. You could in future halve the amounts and pour it into ramekins before cooking for 2 hours and serving as a gorgeous dessert. Just allow it to cool for about 20 minutes first to enhance the flavour. However to turn it into a gorgeous jam, simply beat it with an electric whisk for 2 minutes until light and creamy.

Put the jam into glass jars you’ve sterilised in the oven at 160℃ for 15 minutes and seal immediately. Allow to cool and keep in the fridge for up to 3 weeks. If you’d like Christmas to come early, make some French toast and spread this on it to serve. You’ll hear angels sing as you eat.

Don’t forget that if you’re enjoying Slow Cooked, you can leave your 5 star review on Amazon even if you didn’t buy it there. It’s a great way to introduce people to the book as they browse before Christmas and since I’m on this bland low fat diet again, the only thing I can have fed at the moment is my ego so I’d really appreciate it!

wrinkled potatoes

Slow Cooked and Wrinkled Potatoes

wrinkled potatoesThis year, the big date in my diary hasn’t been my birthday or Christmas or even Bonfire Night but the 6th of November instead. That’s because it’s publication day for Slow Cooked! My book baby is all ready to go out into the world. Those of you who have pre-ordered should have their paws on it by now and everyone else can start buying it from today.

I’ve had so much support and encouragement while I was writing it, especially from my Twitter followers and I’d just like to thank everyone who showed enthusiasm and interest throughout the process. Your patience is about to be rewarded! Go forth and make yourself something lovely in the slow cooker!

You can buy Slow Cooked on Amazon or in branches of Waterstones and WH Smith and good independent bookstores in person or through the fantastic Hive. It’s also available as an e-book if you’re new-fangled that way. Whatever format you decide to buy it in, I’m honoured that you’ve chosen to do so and hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. A massive thank you to Anti Limited for design, Olia Hercules for food styling and Jen Collins for illustrations.

You’ll also have to bear with me while I spend the new few weeks retweeting praise and generally getting a big head. I’ll make it up to you all by answering any slow cooker questions you’ve got on a webchat on Friday 14th November though. Simply tweet @northsouthfood and @eburypublishing and @thehappyfoodie using the #slowcooked hashtag and I’ll be happy to chat about slow cookers til the cows come home!

To celebrate today I’ve decided to go for a slow cooker recipe with one of my all time favourite ingredients; the potato. I’ve gone Spanish with wrinkled potatoes from the Canary Islands. Small potatoes are cooked in salted water until they wrinkle and are imbued with savoury flavour. The long slow cooking mellows the salinity and makes them massively moreish.

Traditionally they’d be served with a mojo sauce of red peppers and smoked paprika, but obviously as a fully fledged pepper hater, I didn’t want to do that. Instead I took my inspiration from another famed Canarian dip, almagrote which is made from mature goats cheese and tomatoes. I must admit that it’s the loosest interpretation of the dish possible and one that will probably get me hounded out of Tenerife if I ever visit. But it is lovely…

Canarian Wrinkled Potatoes with Sweet Potato Almagrote Style Dip

  • 750g small potatoes (I used International Kidney from Sainsbury’s Basics)
  • 50g sea salt
  • 1 litre boiling water
  • 1 large sweet potato, roasted or steamed
  • drizzle of oil if roasting
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 50g cream cheese
  • 25g grated parmesan
  • 1 teaspoon tomato puree
  • 1/8 teaspoon white pepper
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • juice of one lemon

This makes a great pre dinner dish like a homemade tapa. Perfect for soaking up the cava I will be celebrating with tonight in fact. You could also serve it as a side dish.

Start with your potatoes. Scrub them clean if needed and put into the slow cooker crock whole. Add the sea salt and pour the boiling water over them. Put the lid on and cook them on high for 5 hours. You can also boil them on the stove in the salted water but they get a better flavour and texture in the slow cooker.

Heat the oven to 200℃. Peel and chop the sweet potato into 1 inch chunks. Drizzle with the oil and roast for about 15 minutes. Take it out of the oven and add the smoked paprika and crushed garlic so the heat of it mellows them both. Mash the sweet potato with the cream cheese, parmesan and tomato puree. Beat well until it is smooth and add the cayenne and white pepper. Add the lemon juice and set aside.

Drain the potatoes well. The water will look dark as some of the colour has leached out of the potato skins, but don’t worry. This is totaally normal. Don’t rinse the potatoes, you want to keep the saltiness. Roast them for 10 minutes in the oven to dry the skins out and wrinkle the potatoes further. Serve with the sweet potato dip and enjoy the salty savoury umami hit each spud contains. The warm glow of publication day is optional…

PS: don’t forget, the fantastic Brixton Blog and Bugle that I also write for is crowdfunding for a news editor to keep bringing local news to Brixton. In the years it’s been going the Blog and Bugle have been funded by love and volunteers. We need some cash to move forward so please give anything you can!

 

 

 

pig cheek ragu

Slow Cooker Pig Cheek Ragu

pig cheek raguThere is always room in my life for pig on a plate. From bacon, just crisping round the edges to slabs of Christmas ham in Coke or a grilled glistening chop or chorizo jam, I love pork in all its forms. It was of course, the one thing that tempted me from vegetarianism in all those five years and I still feel no qualms about the bacon sandwich eaten late at night up one of the Mourne Mountains after a long day’s walking on my Duke of Edinburgh Silver expedition. I went back to instant couscous the next day and avoided porcine temptations for years more.

But when a rare steak lured me back to omnivorousness once again, it was pig that kept me there. Just around the time Babe hit cinema screens, I was incapable of cooking anything with pork in it without gleefully exclaiming that ‘pork is a nice sweet meat‘ like a demented CGI mouse. More than anything else I eat, I am most able to separate the cuteness of piglets from their taste and texture and the only thing I feel guilty about is my inability to feel guilt about it all.

At first the attraction was that pork is pretty easy to cook. Compare grilling a pork chop to getting a steak just right and you’ll see what I mean. I wasn’t a confident cook at all (if you’d told the 19 year old me that I end up writing two cookbooks, I’d have laughed myself inside out) and meals that were easy to make really appealed. Pork is also often lower in fat which as someone who had just had their gallbladder removed was crucial and combining all these factors with the fact pork is the most affordable meat for free range or higher welfare standards, I’ve cooked it a lot over the years.

We all know that you can eat everything on a pig except the oink and I find it a good way to keep expanding my horizons. Black pudding is a borderline North/South Food obsession and I’ve certainly been won over to the taste if not the texture of trotters, so it was inevitable that pig’s cheeks would call to me. Technically classed as offal as they come from the head, they are in fact pure muscle and perfect for low slow cooking to help the meat fall apart in a tender tangle. Very inexpensive at around £2 for 4, they’ll easily feed 4 people cooked well.

I get mine in Morrisons or Waitrose (and yes, that £2 price is correct for Waitrose as part of their Forgotten Cuts range) and tend to make a massive batch of this ragu in the slow cooker before portioning it up and freezing it until needed. It makes a lasagne of such beauty it’s hard not lick your lips as you describe it. It also goes well with either baked potatoes or as a porky version of cottage pie with cauliflower and potato mash on top. I served it simply here on top of some rigatoni with a hearty sprinkle of parmesan for the first properly autumnal day here in London.

It’s a slow cooker dream and makes a nice change from the ubiquitous pulled pork. I’ve made it without onions as I don’t eat them and I suggest you leave them out too. They bully the soft sweetness of the meat into something less soothing. Read more

boxty 2

Brixton Boxty

boxty 2I have to admit that boxty wasn’t something I ate as a child. Popular in Monaghan and Leitrim, it’s a type of potato pancake made from grated potato, but it was so alien to me as kid, I basically thought it was made up until I was older. I first saw it as a real thing in my beloved potato bible The Humble Spud and I’ve been meaning to make it for years, but I disappeared down the tangent of rosti instead and forgot to back up until recently.

Half of you are probably lost by now. Isn’t a potato pancake just a potato pancake I hear you cry? Well, no, rosti are made with semi cooked grated potato with a high starch content, mixed with onion and fried on each side in butter and is eaten as a savoury side dish. Boxty uses raw grated potato before being fried and can be sweet or savoury. Potato farls are made with mashed potato before being cooked on a griddle and then often fried until golden. And I’ve never yet made a latke, but I’ll bring you breaking news about them when I do…

Some recipes for boxty use mashed potato in with the grated spuds but I thought I’d some pureed fresh corn instead since I have tonnes left over from a recent Brixton Bugle recipe. Combining corn and potato gives a autumnal feel and a taste of Brixton which I thought I’d enhance by adding some chopped Scotch Bonnets, fresh coriander and lime. I then served it with some grilled tomatoes for a really good brunch. Read more