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Coffee Crème Caramel

IMG_4012I’m loving the bit in the Saturday Guardian Cook section where well known food people choose their last meal. The fact that they are allowed to set the scene as to where they’d eat it and with whom reminds us that a good meal is about more than just the food. But the food is pretty important too and each time I read one of these I start debating what my final meal would involve.

There would definitely be squid, but would it be a tender slow cooked squid stew with ripe tomatoes or would it be chargrilled for moments til the edges blacken and the tentacles have the right amount of chew? Maybe some deep fried crispy salt and pepper squid? Or would I regret not having the salt and chilli version?

Would I have a perfectly pink middled duck breast or a steak so blue it’s still mooing for the main course? Indecision is my greatest forte so I just get myself tied up in hungry knots each Saturday morning, except for one thing. I know exactly what I’m having for dessert. Crème Caramel.

I love crème caramel so much there is no such thing as a crème caramel I don’t like. I even love the hell out of those 69p for four supermarket ones that are like a milk jelly in an oddly shaped tub. My love is unconditional for this classic dessert. Yet for years I never made it, reaching for the Bonne Maman ones in the posh glass ramekins instead and believing it would be fiendishly tricky to make.

I’m not sure what convinced me to try making it when I had such a mental block about it, but I had the idea of doing slow cooker crème caramel for the book and discovered that making it is even easier than eating a whole family pack of them in one sitting. You’ll have to wait til Slow Cooked comes out on November 6th for the slow cooker version, but here’s a stovetop one that combines the flavours of coffee and vanilla to tide you over.

Coffee Crème Caramel (makes 4)

  • 120g sugar
  • 60ml water
  • generous pinch salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 25g caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon instant coffee
  • 400ml whole milk

Do not think about making this with skimmed or semi-skimmed milk or it won’t set properly and will collapse on itself if you try to turn them out of the ramekins. I actually tend to use milk powder for as I live in a very Portuguese area where everyone keeps a tin of Nido in the house.

Start by making the caramel. Put the sugar and the water in a stainless steel pan on the cooker. Non stick pans can make the caramel crystallize and become granulated. Melt the sugar over a medium heat, stirring constantly.

When the sugar is completely melted, stop stirring and allow the caramel to boil to a dark rich colour. Keep a close eye to make sure it doesn’t burn. It should take about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat immediately. Add the salt and stir in.

Pour an equal amount of caramel into each of the ramekins and set aside to cool and harden. Don’t put them in the fridge or the caramel becomes soft and tacky. It will take about an hour for the caramel to set. Leave aside until needed.

To make the custard, warm the milk in a pan. While it is coming to a simmer, beat the eggs in a bowl with the caster sugar until they are thickened. When the milk is warm, pour a little bit of it into the eggs and whisk. This tempers the eggs to stop the custard splitting.

Pour the tempered eggs into the remaining milk and whisk together. Heat gently until the custard coats the back of a spoon. Add the vanilla extract and the instant coffee and stir in well. Remove from the heat immediately and pour the cooked custard into the ramekins, leaving a few centimetres of room for expansion.

Set the the filled ramekins into a deep baking tray and pour enough boiling water into the crock to come about two thirds of the way up them. Carefully set this bain marie into the oven and and cook the crème caramel on 150℃ for 25 minutes.

Lift the crème caramels out of the oven. There should be no bubbles round the edges. Allow the crème caramels to cool for an hour or so and then put them into the fridge overnight. This means the caramel will absorb into the crème properly

When you are ready to serve, simply turn the crème caramels out onto small plates and eat. The caramel will cascade down the side of the custards as well as flavouring the base of them, mixing beautifully with the soft rich coffee flavour to make the most delicious version you’ve ever eaten. I’d keep telling you how good they are, but I’ve got my mouth full…

pineapple sorbet

Pineapple Sorbet

pineapple sorbet Aside from friends and family, I think the thing I miss the most about Northern Ireland is its selection of ice lollies. Considering its such a chilly corner of the world, we love our frozen treats. Ice cream has its merits, but there’s something about ice lollies that we especially enjoy.

These lollies held a massive lure when I was a kid popping to the local shop with my pocket money. Sometimes you went for quantity over quality and got handfuls of those Mr Freeze freezepops in the long plastic containers, making sure there was at least one Blue Raspberry flavour per batch. A freezepop fest didn’t count unless you dyed your tongue an unnatural shade.

But more often, it was all about branded lollies on wooden sticks. I’m old enough to remember when they embossed jokes onto the sticks and this was worth the potential to set your teeth on edge with the wood. Walls offered us Mini Milks and Funny Feet, but I didn’t like either much. Lyons had the iconic Fab and the Mivvi, but they were cinema lollies not hot day ones. I adored Irish company HB‘s Fat Frogs which were apple flavoured and had a soft spot for a shark shaped one that was sharp and citrus flavoured and a blackcurrant Dracula lolly too, but my love lay (and still does) with Norn Irish classics from Dale Farm.

Leaning over the freezer trying to choose between a Rocky Rasper (raspberry, but not blue), the sugar free but lovely lemon-lime Supa Cool, a smooth vanilla Mr Frostie (in lieu of the toy lolly maker of the same name) or the crocodile branded Choc Pop was tricky. I never wanted a Joker with its orange outer and ice cream middle and I hated orangey Quenchers too.

My first choice was always the Pear Picking Porky, the undisputed classic ice lolly of all time. Not, as my Slovakian surrogate sister once asked, pig flavoured, but made of that artificial pear flavouring that is nothing like the fruit, these lollies the spot every time. I’ve even eaten them walking up Botanic Avenue on Boxing Day. The only problem with them is that they are so popular they sell out easily, meaning one needs a back up plan.

For me this comes in the shape of a Polly Pineapple. So when I found myself far from Belfast in the middle of a heatwave and craving frozen salvation, I knew I could muster a pineapple lolly in London rather than a pear one. Surely it would be pretty simple?

And it was, coming in with a whopping three ingredients. The tricky bit came when I could not for the life of me get the lollies out of the cheapo moulds I bought in the pound shop in one piece. The sticks slid out, there was swearing and then in a fit of frustration, I scooped the slightly slushy sorbet out with a spoon and refroze it in a Tupperware. Success…

Pineapple Sorbet (makes about 500ml)

  • 1 whole fresh pineapple or 425g tin of pineapple chunks
  • 100g sugar
  • 75ml water

I like tinned pineapple (blame my Mallory Towers habit as a kid) so that’s what I used but if you can get a super sweet and ripe fresh pineapple, it’d be perfect. Sniff the base of it, discreetly if in store, and if it smells strongly of pineapple, it is perfect. Peel it, remove the core and chop it up making sure you keep any juice.

If using the tinned, tip it, juice and all into a large bowl. Using a hand blender, blitz the pineapple of either kind and its juice together until smooth and lump free. It should like those nectar style juices you get that contain pulp. Set aside and chill.

Make a simple sugar syrup by combining the sugar and water in a pan and heating together until it forms a thick syrupy texture without changing colour. Remove from the heat and allow to cool down. You will have slightly more here than you probably need for the recipe but it keeps well in the fridge and is perfect for sweetening iced tea in hot weather.

Add about 50ml of the cooled sugar syrup to the pineapple pulp and stir. Pour into a Tupperware container and put the lid on. Put in the freezer and chill for 4 hours. Either give it a stir once an hour with a fork to break up the ice crystals and keep it smooth or leave it alone for 3 hours and then blitz it again with the handblender and freeze for another hour.

Take it out of the freezer about 10 minutes before you want to eat it. It will be smooth in texture and almost like a really really good Slush Puppie. In fact, you could add a tiny bit of dark rum and drink it as a frozen cocktail through a wide straw if you liked. It tasted enough of a Polly Pineapple to quench my craving, but better enough to be worth the effort. Plus it gave me a chance to get the fake parrot and pineapple ice bucket out…

 

mikado opening

Homemade Mikado Biscuits

mikado 1

I have been on a bit of a biscuit roll recently (if you’ll pardon the pun) and rediscovering all kinds of childhood tastes. I blame that re-run of Nigel Slater’s biscuit programme because it’s certainly not just a desire to cram biscuits into my mouth. Oh no.

I loved making the fig rolls and I loved revisiting the Kimberley, Mikado and Coconut Cream jingle of childhood in my research for it, but honestly didn’t think anymore of it, especially since I was never quite sure which biscuit was which and preferred to say it as it’s all one word. I half thought of looking out for a packet of them if I was in an Asda soon with their weird ‘ethnic Irish’ grocery section.

My attention was actually all about the homemade teacake. I had heard about the rose infused version at Restaurant Story in Bermondsey recently and it got me thinking about playing around with having a go at something similar when some friends came for midsummer afternoon tea.

I’ve had this fantastic sounding recipe for teacakes from the ever wonderful The Little Loaf in my ‘to make’ folder for ages and thought I’d adapt it to make rose marshmallows again and spread the biscuit with rose petal jam. They sounded like they’d go well with a little Pimms on the patio in fact.

I started by baking the biscuits. Except I didn’t have any wholemeal flour, just some leftover buckwheat flour from the galette in Recipes from Brixton Village. Then I realised the rosewater for the marshmallows was three years out of date and smelt like a Woolworths bath and body gift set. It was time to use the random bottle of Polish raspberry syrup I’d impulse purchased a few weeks ago to see if I could add flavour and colour that way.

Raspberry and rose go beautifully so I still needed that rose petal jam: the rose petal jam that I forgot I’d eaten earlier this year and of course couldn’t be found without some time travel. Luckily I had some emergency raspberry jam on the shelf and it would look like it was intentional.

Massive amounts of improvisation later, I was ready to start assembling the teacakes. I spread the jam on the biscuits, splodged on the marshmallow and realised that on a very warm day the jam made it all so slippy I would never be able to coat them with chocolate without disaster. I was just about to give up on the whole endeavour when I realised that with a sprinkle of desiccated coconut I had accidentally created a homemade Mikado and saved the day…

Homemade Mini Mikado Biscuits (adapted from the Little Loaf)

Makes approx 60 bite sized biccies

  • 100g buckwheat or spelt flour
  • 50g rice or plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 50g sugar
  • 50g cold butter
  • 30ml buttermilk
  • 1 large egg white
  • 50g sugar
  • 2 tablespoons golden syrup
  • 4 tablespoons raspberry syrup or 75ml raspberry juice and 75g sugar
  • 4 tablespoons raspberry jam (seedless is best)
  • 2 tablespoons desiccated coconut

Start by making the biscuits. Sift the two flours into a large bowl and add the baking powder and sugar. Stir it all well together. Rub the cold butter into it all until it forms what looks like fine breadcrumbs. Add the buttermilk a teaspoon at a time. The dough will come together without being sticky.

Using the palms of your hands, form it into a loose ball and squash it flat into some clingfilm. Wrap tightly and chill overnight or for at least 6 hours.

Heat the oven to 170℃ and roll the biscuit dough out on a floured surface until it is about 1cm thick. Cut out little bite sized biscuits out with the top of a small jar or champagne flute. Lay on a tray lined with greaseproof paper and bake for 12 minutes. I don’t like my biscuits too crisp for this kind of thing myself.

Allow the biscuits to cool while you make the marshmallow. This is the kind of marshmallow you get in big pots called Marshmallow Fluff and for me it never sets to make the solid kind you toast, but is perfect for this kind of thing.

Set a large bowl over a pan of boiling water and melt the sugar and golden syrup together. Using an electric whisk, beat the egg white into it all and keep beating it all over the heat for 6 minutes. Add in the raspberry syrup. I used bottle stuff but make a quick version with the raspberry juice from squashed berries and sugar boiled together to make a thick syrup if you don’t have a crazy Polish drinks aisle near you. Beat it all together for another 2 minutes and remove from the heat to cool.

Put the cooled marshmallow into a piping bag. Do check to see if you have actually have a piping bag first unlike me who had to do the freezer bag trick instead. Spread a tiny blob of raspberry jam on each biscuit and pipe a puff of marshmallow on top. Yours will look prettier than mine I promise. Sprinkle the marshmallow with a scant amount of coconut and if you’re trying to hide the badly piped nipple-like marshmallow you’ve just done, add some edible glitter too.

Leave the biscuits to set for at least two hours before eating and then line them up on a plate to make what looks like one enormous Mikado and inhale them one after the other. Wearing a headscarf and housecoat is of course optional for most people but basically how I always dress when I’m cooking since you can only take the girl out of Belfast….

PS: I’m now on Instagram. Come and say hello!

 

biscuits

A Savoury Cream Tea

biscuitsConfession time. I don’t have any opinions on the cream tea at all. I don’t love it, I don’t hate it, I’ll eat it if it’s there. I really don’t care if you put the jam first or the cream first. My only rule is don’t put raisins in your scones. No one likes raisins in scones.

However I do like other things in scones. Cafe Renoir in Belfast (the one in Queen’s Street was a beloved day time hangout of mine when I was a teenager ) is the spiritual home of scone and offered up some great takes on them. I loved their pineapple and coconut ones and may have stampeded the queue when they had the white chocolate and raspberry ones. I also make treacle and ginger soda bread scones quite often at home. I am not a scone purist at all. In fact I find the plain scone a little, well, dull sometimes.

The problem with the plain scone is that they need to not just be nice, they need to be excellent. I can’t make them to save my life, churning out leaden lumps that set your teeth on edge with baking powder. I lack the light hand to make fluffy golden topped scones that people ooh and ahh over. I’ve tried and neither Delia nor the wife of a Northern Irish minister who has made thousands of scones for the church over the years have been able to set me on the right path.

So I’ve given up and turned my attention to the American biscuit instead. More savoury than a scone and often made to be flaky rather than fluffy, something about them appeals to me more for making at home than scones. I’ve tried a version that simply involved double cream and flour that were more like fudge than anything else and worked my way through those involving lard instead of butter and they’ve been good, but not great.

Then I came across this recipe from a woman in Tennessee with 5 stars reviews across the board (unheard of on the internet) and 17 tips to help make your biscuits great and the savoury cream tea was born. I topped these flaky biscuits with chorizo jam and thyme creme fraiche and suddenly I have many many opinions of cream teas again…

chorizo jamSlow Cooker Chorizo Jam (makes 5 x 300ml jars)

(Loosely inspired by Eat Like a Girl‘s dedication to meat jams)

  • 1 large white onion, finely diced
  • 25g unsalted butter
  • 500g cooking chorizo (or 250g chorizo and 250g streaky bacon)
  • 1 tablespoon wholegrain mustard
  • 1 tablespoon tomato puree
  • 1 tablespoon brown miso
  • 1 red chilli, finely chopped
  • 150ml apple juice
  • 60ml red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground mace
  • 1/4 white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon pul biber/Aleppo pepper (smoked Turkish chilli flakes)

This is the easiest thing in the world to make, which is a blessing since people are going to ask you for jars of it quite frequently. I imagine you can make it in a low oven of around 120℃ for about 4 hours, but you’ll need to check the liquid levels as it cooks to make sure it doesn’t cook dry. But since I am all about the slow cookers these days, I’ve barely remembered how to turn my oven on….

The chorizo jam is best made with soft cooking chorizo which is raw rather than the hard cured kind. I got mine at Brindisa but most of the big supermarkets will stock it. You could use the dried cured kind, but add about 75ml more apple juice to help it soften up.

The base of the jam is made with soft sweet caramelised onion to bring it all together and create a sticky jammy texture. Raw or barely cooked onion doesn’t work well here so don’t skip the first stage of the recipe.

Finely dice the onion to about 1cm dice and add to the slow cooker with the butter. Put the lid on the slow cooker and cook the onion on high for 4 hours or low for 8 hours. The slow cooker makes the best caramelised onions you can imagine so I quite often spent 20 minutes slicing or dicing a kilo or two of them and doing a massive batch. I then freeze portions or keep them in a sterilised jar in the fridge for up to a month and add them to dishes as needed.

Once the onion is caramelised, cut the chorizo into 1-1.5cm pieces and add to the slow cooker crock. The bacon should be thin strips if using. Add all the other ingredients and stir it all together well. I find adding them with the liquid in the middle helps bring it all together  more easily.

Pop the lid on the slow cooker and cook it all together on low for 8-9 hours. I did mine overnight and when I woke up the house smelled wonderful. I then sterilised some jars in the oven and bottled it. Keep in the fridge for up to four weeks.

While you are making the chorizo jam, multi task with making the crème fraîche as well. It takes about 18 hours to be ready, but requires very little actual effort. Making it from scratch allows you to customise it by infusing it with the flavours you like. It would be wonderful with rosemary or sage or garlic for a savoury version or with rose, lavender or lapsang souchong for a sweet version. Simply substitute the equivalent amount of thyme for the flavour of your choice.

creme fraiche

Homemade Thyme Crème Fraîche (makes 300ml)

  • 300ml double cream
  • 2 tablespoons dried or fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoons cultured buttermilk or sour cream

Put the double cream in a small saucepan and add the thyme (or flavouring of your choice) and gently heat the cream to 71℃ exactly. You will need a thermometer for this. Do not heat the cream higher than this heat. 71℃ is the magic number to activate cream or milk to thicken (or develop into cheese) and is sometimes known as ‘clabbering’ it. Some argue this is only the correct term if you are using raw unpastuerised milk, but since few words suit my Belfast accent better, I will continue to use it even if inauthentic.

Take the pan off the heat immediately and allow the cream to cool to 40℃. This will take around an hour and allows the thyme to infuse beautifully.

Wash out a glass jar in the hottest water you can handle and don’t dry it. Strain the cream through a sieve into it, leaving the thyme behind. Add the 2 tablespoons of buttermilk or sour cream and stir well. This ‘inoculates’ the cream and introduces the culture needed to turn from cream to crème fraîche. It is similar to the process of making yoghurt and both allow dairy products to last longer without spoiling.

Loosely cover the jar with its lid and then set it somewhere nice and warm to thicken up. I left mine right by the slow cooker that was making my chorizo jam as it gives out a nice waft of warmth. It will take about 12-14 hours to become a thick creamy texture that will hold the mark of the back of a spoon run through it. At this point, chill it for 4 hours to thicken up completely. Store in the fridge for up to 4 weeks.

Serve the chorizo jam and thyme crème fraîche on freshly baked biscuits you’ve split open. Your choice as to which you dollop onto the biscuit first. I’m not going near that controversy unless I’ve served an entire bottle of cava with my savoury cream tea and am too well refreshed to notice!

green goddess

Green Goddess Dressing

green goddessBrixton market is fantastic all year round and the reason I am able to eat so well on a budget, but every so often, it exceeds even my expectations of it. This week it was with small dark skinned avocados for 25p each or 6 for a pound. (I hear places in West Norwood are doing 7 for a pound but that’s irritatingly odd numbered for me.)

I took my bulging bag of avos home and pondered what to do with them beyond simply splitting them in half, going old school by filling them with vinaigrette and eating them with a spoon. I vaguely remembered bookmarking Green Goddess dressing ages ago in preparation for a glut of avocado and it seemed like the moment to unearth it.

For those of whom who don’t know what Green Goddess dressing is (ie: all British people), it is an American salad dressing, particularly popular in the Seventies and absolutely packed with fresh herbs to give it the green of the name. While it has fallen out of favour generally, it’s popular amongst vegan food bloggers who use avocado to give creaminess instead of the lashings of mayo the original recipe featured.

It’s particularly good at this time of year when often you have a fresh herb fest in the garden as well as being more likely to eat salad. I’d love to tell you that I went out to the patio and cut my own home grown herbs and salad leaves to create this meal, but since I’ve killed all my plants except the thyme that went to live next door for its own safety, I’d be lying. I simply revelled in finally being able to use up those bouquet sized bunches of herbs in the market for once.

I made this version when I was cooking for a friend who is vegan so omitted the traditional anchovy using a little miso instead. You could also substitute with nutritional yeast.

Green Goddess Dressing (makes about 350ml)

  • 2 scallions
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 100g fresh basil
  • 100g fresh parsley
  • 25g fresh thyme
  • 25g fresh tarragon or oregano
  • 1 anchovy fillet or 1 teaspoon miso paste
  • 4 small avocados or 2 regular sized ones
  • juice of two lemons or limes
  • 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
  • 1/8 teaspoon Tabasco or similiar hot sauce
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
  • salt and pepper
  • 50ml cold water (optional)

This dressing is easiest in a small blender but you could make it the the old fashioned way with some serious chopping.

Start by finely chopping or blitzing the scallions and garlic. Set into a large bowl and chop or blitz all the fresh herbs as much as possible. They should almost be a chunky paste. Add in the miso or anchovy and combine it all well to a further rough paste. Add to the scallion and garlic.

Cut the avocados in half and remove the stones. Puree or mash the avocado as smoothly as possible and stir into the chopped herb and scallion mixture. It will be slightly coarse in texture at this stage but combined.

Add the juice of the lemons or limes, the vinegar and the hot sauce. Mix well and stir in the cumin and the seasoning. The dressing should be thick, smooth and very creamy at this stage but if it’s too stiff for your liking, add the cold water to make it a little looser. I like mine thick enough to splodge with a spoon but add a bit more water if you want to be able to actually pour it onto a salad.

I served mine more like a dip with herbed courgette fritters swiped through it. It would also be fantastic with tortilla chips for a change to guacamole. It dresses salad beautifully and if you aren’t vegan, it’s excellent with chicken or fish. The high acid content in the dressing means it will keep covered in the fridge for up to three days without discolouring.

Hopefully this dressing will have a revival as it’s so delicious. You can adapt the fresh herbs depending what you have. I wouldn’t use rosemary but chives, majoram, sorrel or dill would all work well too. It’s just further confirmation that Americans really are the people to ask  about salad dressings and dips because they do them so well.