Cashew Nut Blondies

cashew blondiesAs I might have mentioned, I’ve been quite busy recently which has lead to the slightly bizarre scenario of being a food writer without the time to cook anything. What I needed was something low maintenance, very easy and with tonnes of impact for very little effort.

Oddly enough I found the answer to this quest in a disappointing jar of cashew butter. Since I’ve been lusting after some Keen nut butters for ages but unable to get them easily in South London, I impulse purchased a jar of the new Sun-Pat cashew butter instead.

I should have held out for the good stuff because this cashew and peanut blend was awful. Flavourless, limp and claggy, I couldn’t even eat the slice of toast I’d put it on as midnight snack. Staring blankly at a whole jar of the stuff, I took to Twitter to vent and some bright spark suggesting baking with it to rescue it.

I originally thought I’d make cookies like these but then I happened to be perusing one of my favourite sites Post Punk Kitchen and saw a recipe for peanut butter blondies and knew I had my answer. I love Isa’s recipes even if I tend to de-veganise them as I have here and adapted them in other ways.

Spiced Cashew Nut Blondies (makes about 12 medium size blondies)

  •  150g cashew nuts, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon mace
  • 175g cashew nut butter or peanut butter
  • 50ml vegetable oil
  • 175g brown sugar
  • 50ml milk (non dairy milk works well too)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 250g plain flour (use a gluten free one if needed)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Begin by taking some roasted salted cashew nuts and chopping them roughly so that each nut is in about thirds. You want a bit of bite. Melt the sugar and the water together in a small pan and add the spices. Stir it all well and allow to become a thick dark syrup. Toss the cashew nuts in the syrup and lay in a single layer on a baking tray. Roast for about 15 minutes at 200℃.

In a large bowl, mix the cashew nut butter and the oil together into a thick paste. Beat the sugar into it all. Add the milk and the vanilla. It will be quite runny. Sift the flour, salt and baking powder into the nut and sugar mix.

Stir it all well. It will combine easily into a ball that comes away from the edges of the bowl cleanly. Line a 9 inch square tin with baking liner or greaseproof paper. Tip the roasted spiced cashews into the dough and carefully mix them through lightly. Spoon the dough into the tin and flatten it out with the back of a fork.

Turn the oven down to 175℃. Bake the blondies for about 20-22 minutes or until the edges are golden brown. The centre should still be soft. Allow the blondies to cool completely in the tin and then cut into 12 squares.

These kept for almost a week in an airtight container and were a fantastic quick snack when I didn’t have time to do more than just grab something with a cuppa. The cashew nut butter wasn’t completely rescued by this as the taste was still a bit thin, but the texture was fantastic and I’d make them again with a decent peanut or cashew butter anytime. I might even re-veganise them too…

Recipes from Brixton Village book launch

_NTI8538I’ve been a bit quiet recently because Recipes from Brixton Village launched last Thursday May 22nd and everything has been full on in that time. The book has been incredibly well received and at the time of writing is No. 1 on Amazon in their Restaurant Cookbook category! Thank you to everyone who has bought it, tweeted about it, told their friends about it and supported me with it. I couldn’t have done it without you all and of course the traders of Brixton Village. They have been absolutely fantastic and their enthusiasm about the book is infectious. We had a fantastic launch party on May 22nd at Studio 73 in the Village and the book sold like hot cakes, going even faster than the codfish fritters from Fish Wings and Tings, black olive doughnuts from Casa Sibilla and daikon and chilli dip from Okan did! We did justice to a keg of Brixton Brewery American Pale Ale,  some gluten-free Celia lager courtesy of Vozars and some of Brian’s home-made ginger beer…and spilled out into 1st Avenue dwarfing the Honest Burger queue for once.

Many thanks to Adrian at Studio 73 for allowing us to take over his shop and for hosting our illustrator Kaylene Alder’s exhibition. If you missed it you can still buy prints from the book from her website. And massive thanks to all the traders who supplied food and drinks too. _NTI8533 I’m delighted to share some of the photos from the evening with you if you weren’t able to make it. Sadly we don’t have any photos of the launch event with Herne Hill Books on May 25th as I was too busy selling books, chatting to Jay Rayner and encouraging people to try the excellent cupcakes from Sponge and Cream we celebrated it all with. If you are in Brixton this weekend, you can find Kaylene and me at the Big Lunch in Brixton Village at the Coldharbour Lane entrance from 11am-4pm. Kaylene is setting up an art trail for the kids and I’m running a small quiz to see how well you’ve all read the book!There’s also the charity lunch to raise money for Brixton Soup Kitchen. I’ll be selling and signing books as well along with the Brixton Blog team. And then on Monday night, I’m fighting any nerves about public speaking to read at the Brixton Book Jam at the Hootenanny on Effra Road. I should be making my author’s debut about 8.30pm so come along for a beer and some book chat. I might be selling books but if previous events are anything to go by, we’ll have sold out on Sunday! I’ll hopefully be popping up in Grazia Daily this week and we’re plotting all kinds of exciting events over the summer, including a little something at Lambeth Country Show. It’s quite the whirlwind of events but it’s been fantastic meeting people and just talking Brixton non stop! Definitely my dream job.

Don’t forget you can still buy books with free UK P&P direct from the Kitchen Press website or for international shipping at Amazon. Don’t forget to leave a review there to tell us how much you enjoyed the book or the recipes you cooked! Signed copies can be ordered from the Brixton Blog shop too. And if you come down to Brixton Village this weekend, you can buy the book direct from the traders and chat to them about their input. It’s also in stock at 20 Storey in Market Row along with a selection of other Brixton authors’ books and the famous I ♥︎ Brixton mugs. We really do have everything you could ever want in Brixton! _NTI8725

soup scallions and butter

Comfort Eating

soup scallions and butter

I’ve been having a very quiet couple of weeks. The flu found me just as I finished up the book and I’ve been forced to take to my bed with a pile of pillows and paracetamol. Being a delicate little flower healthwise, I take a long time to bounce back from these things. I had been planning a holiday from as much cooking as I’d been doing, but I’ve gone somewhat from the sublime to the ridiculous and all I want to eat is comfort food.

I know my body should probably be repairing itself with plates of lean meat, leafy green vegetables and a rainbow of fruit for the much needed vitamins. Aside from my first kiwi fruit in nigh on 20 years, I haven’t been craving those things, but wanting to eat biscuits and mountains of mashed potato instead. I’ve been disappointed to discover that pink wafers aren’t as nice as I remember but mashed potato hasn’t let me down.

Every Northern Irish kid grows up on piles of champ, that magical mix of scallions, mash and a crater of melted butter. It was essential to dip each mouthful in the butter but not let the butter pool break down the side of the spuds. Nothing makes me feel better than champ. The memory of a friend making it for me on a truly awful weekend not long after I’d moved to London still warms my soul now and it was the first meal I ever cooked in my new flat after being homeless. It reminds me of childhood and security and being loved. Growing up in the margarine obsessed 80s meant butter equalled true love.

A sickly child, I spent a lot of time recuperating and convalescing. Certain things always helped. My mum made me egg beaten up in a cup, the soft yolked egg mixed with broken up wheaten bread and more butter. It was easy to eat in all the ways that counted. Heinz tomato soup made an appearance. I’m not brand loyal to much but there’s only one type of tinned tomato soup for me. Speaking of butter, put a little blob of it on top of the soup and see it in a whole new light.

My other love was jelly. Something about its soft soothing wobble still comforts me even now. My aunt used to give me cubes of ‘raw’ jelly out of the packet on Sunday afternoon walks in lieu of modern day affectations like Haribo and I was always told it was good for your nails. Some thing about the gelatine strengthening them. I grew up to have beautifully shaped nails of steel that people often mistake for the expensive kind you buy, so maybe the old wives’ tale did have truth in it? I do know jelly was one of the things I missed profoundly when I was a vegetarian teenager.

I’ve been eating pots and pots of it recently and kicking myself I didn’t order ice cream in my Sainsbury’s shop to go with it. I thought the pay off from years of tonsilitis as a kid was the promised jelly and ice cream after the op when I finally had my tonsils removed. Few things have ever disappointed me more than being given a plastic bowl of Rice Krispies next morning instead. Snap, crackle and pain. Raspberry jelly and vanilla ice cream it was not.

You can keep your Phish Foods and Choco-loco-doodahs and fancy schmancy ice creams when I’m ill. Nothing cuts the mustard quite like a proper taste of raspberry ripple whether it comes cut in slices from a block or conjured up yourself with the jelly or frozen berries. My mum even had a Yardley lipstick that tasted of raspberry ripple when I was a kid and I suspect the fact lipstick doesn’t taste like that anymore is why I’ve never owned one, reserving my colour love for nail polish instead.

I’ll know I’m on the mend again when I want colour on my plate. I’ll be sticking with my mashed potato, steaming bowls of porridge and fluffy white rice in the meantime. Simple and easy to make when I lack energy, they taste homemade when there’s no one else to make them for me and of course, they can incorporate butter beautifully… What about you? What food comforts you when you feel ill or wearied by life? Does it matter who makes it or food just fuel when life is full of pressure?

PS: here’s a preview of Recipes from Brixton Village so take a trip to the market with this fabulous video and start counting down the days til May 22nd when you can get your copy!

Homemade Vanilla Extract

IMG_4142

I’ve been meaning to post this recipe for a while as it’s completely changed my cooking and baking habits and after such a busy week, it’s nice to to feature something simple and slow to develop. More like musing than cooking, it’s perfect after a fortnight that’s seen me submit the manuscript on the slow cooker book to Ebury, feature in the Metro and finish the three days of photography on the book, seeing my creations come to life in a way I hadn’t envisioned when I was eating them.

It was a real pleasure to collaborate with Mister North this week as he is the photographer for the book. My writing and his photography was enhanced by the wonderful food styling of Olia Hercules who was a real joy to work with. It was also great fun spending time with my lovely editor Laura Higginson. And of course having the excuse to eat all the food from the shoot. Very different to my previous life working in fashion…

I felt a pang when my borrowed slow cookers went back to the publisher this week and I comforted myself by pot roasting a chicken in my own one and baking myself a cake which is where the vanilla extract came in. A splash of vanilla in any cake, custard or dessert tends to lift it from good to glorious, but there’s no way round it, vanilla extract is expensive and I usually find myself rationing it like fine perfume.

However just before Christmas 2012 whilst perusing Ebay, I discovered that you can buy vanilla pods for a fantastic prices on there. Scoring 32 of them for £8, I assumed they’d at least have a hint of vanilla and look nice tied to Christmas presents or nestled into sugar. When they arrived however I could smell the rich sweet scent of vanilla through the package before I’d opened it. Unwrapped, each pod was sticky soft and left a sprinkle of vanilla seeds behind on your fingers like fairy dust. And that was just the A Grade pods. They go up to AAAAA in quality.

As with any excess of anything, I thought I’d stick them in some booze and see what happened. Three pods and a smidge of sugar went into some vodka for the perfect festive tipple. I also had a cheap bottle of dark rum left over from a mojito night and wondered what would happen if I put 10 in there and left it in the dark for three months? Vanilla extract that will knock your socks off and make those bottles of Nielsen Massey seem like The Body Shop oil you dabbed behind your ears at the age of twelve.

Rich chestnut brown, spicy sweet and utterly heady, this extract was amazing. The seeds melt into it to make it thick and glossy and the flavour is so intense you need half the amount you normally do. Considering those posh bottles retail at £4.70 per 100ml or around £47 per litre, making your own makes financial sense too. I made around 750ml of extract in December 2012 and gave small bottles of it as gifts, keeping some for myself. I’ve tested two cookbooks since then, baked myself silly and still have 150ml left. My vanilla beans are also currently brewing a second batch too which is just as intensely flavoured meaning I will probably never need buy commercial stuff again.

Homemade Vanilla Extract (makes 700ml)

  • 700ml dark rum
  • 10 vanilla pods

So simple to make. Simply split your pods so that they are opened out and flattened slightly. Pop them into a clean Kilner jar and cover with dark rum. I used Basics for this. Put somewhere dark and cool for at least 3 months. Shake the jar every few days to help infuse it all.

After 3 months, decant around 50ml into a small bottle and use. Leave the rest to keep infusing for up 9 months or decant it to give as gifts. I put half a pod into each small bottle to keep the infusion going and look pretty. I don’t bother to strain the extract as the seeds look beautiful to me.

Friends I gave this to asked for more for Christmas 2013 and I do actually have some waiting to be delivered! If you are a baker, this is a brilliant way to make the most of vanilla in your kitchen. You will never think of vanilla as bland or flavourless again once you’ve tasted this.

 

Manchester Pudding

manchester puddingLike everyone else in the world, I was planning on making pancakes this week. But being one of them there fancy food blogger types, I was going to do one version in advance to be published today, making me look smart and then have the standard ones tonight for tea as well.

My forward thinking/gluttony was sabotaged by the fact my non stick pan has given up the ghost. A omelette last week was unspeakable and yesterday’s attempt at boxty taught me something can be burnt and gluey at the same time. I wouldn’t dare try and flip anything in it today while I await my new cast iron pan from Sainsbury’s to arrive (their whole cast iron range is on offer currently.)

Instead I thought of other ways to use up the eggs I’d bought specially and my mind went back to this recipe for Manchester Pudding I’ve bookmarked ages ago. A rich custard is bulked up with breadcrumbs and baked and then topped with jam and meringue, it is the perfect pud when you have some spare eggs.

I made mine in the slow cooker as originally I thought I might use the recipe for the book but as the custards were baking, I counted my recipes and realised I’ve actually got more than 200 recipes and decided to blog it instead. I am totally loving the slow cooker as a giant bain marie. It’s so much easier than trying to lift trays of boiling water out of the oven and the steaming effect seems to make custards even creamier. In fact, it’s turned me from a custard catastrophe to to a custard champion. Perfect.

Manchester Pudding  (adapted from Simon Rimmer’s recipe here)

(serves 4-6)

  • 600ml or 1 pint whole milk
  • 1 lemon, grated
  •  few drops almond essence (optional)
  • 25g butter
  • 25g sugar
  • 100g white breadcrumbs
  • 6 egg yolks, beaten
  • 4 egg whites
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar
  • 25g raspberry jam

I used individual ramekins for mine but you could use one large dish to make this. If you are using the slow cooker, check to see which fits best before you get to the stage of pouring boiling water round it.

Pour the milk into a saucepan and warm it gently on a medium heat. Don’t let it boil. Grate the lemon zest into the milk and allow the flavours to infuse. I added some bitter almond essence as well at this stage but this is non traditional and optional. Set the milk aside to cool for 10 minutes.

Add the butter and the sugar to the milk while bringing it back to a simmer. Stir in the breadcrumbs and combine well, allowing them to soak up some of the milk. Take the pan off the direct heat. Beat the egg yolks well in a small bowl and then add a splash of the hot milk and stir it well. This tempers the egg yolks and stop them from splitting or scrambling.

Pour the tempered yolks into the milk and stir it well. This creates the custard. Pour it into the ramekins or dish. Set it into the slow cooker crock. Pour boiling water carefully into the crock so it comes halfway up the sides. Put the lid on it and bake the custards for 30 minutes.

If you don’t have a slow cooker, set the dishes in deep roasting tin. Put the roasting tin in the oven at 180ºC and pour boiling water into it so it comes half way up the side of it. Bake the custards for 30 minutes.

While the custards cook, make your meringue. Put the egg whites in a clean grease free bowl and beat with an electric whisk for 1-2 minutes until they are frothy. Start adding the sugar gradually, beating all the while. This will create a lovely glossy meringue. Beat for about 5 minutes until the egg whites are in soft peaks and you can do the whole turn the bowl upside down thing. Stir the vinegar in. Spoon the meringue into a piping bag.

Check on your custards. They should be set but still wobbling. Add a dollop of jam and then pipe meringue on top the custard. This is much easier to do in the slow cooker where all you have to do is lift the lid off and lean over the crock. You’ll need to take the roasting tin out of the oven completely to do this.

Replace the lid of the slow cooker and allow the meringue to cook for 12 minutes or turn the oven up to 240ºC and bake the meringue for 8-10 minutes. The slow cooker meringue will be set but soft and sticky like the chewy bit in a pavlova or some marshmallow fluff. The baked ones will be crunchy and sticky inside. Finish the slow cooker puddings off under a hot grill for about 1-2 minutes just to give them a little colour.

Serve the puddings immediately or allow to cool. The slow cooker one will keep for up to 2 days in advance in the fridge. I love the soft gooey meringue combined with the thick creamy custard and don’t feel I’m missing out on pancakes at all with one of these left for dinner tonight!