cashew blondies

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…

pineapple cream

Pineapple Creams

pineapple cream I am obsessed with Northern Irish traybakes and home baking. I’m obviously having some kind of childhood regression, homesickness or strong desire to bring such delicacies to a wider primarily English audience.  Basically it makes sad that there are people have never eaten a fifteen or a top hat until now.

However having introduced several friends and readers to these entry level traybakes and got them hooked on the sugary delights of Norn Irish cuisine, I’ve been leafing through some prized local cookbooks to look for more niche items to feed to them.

Often these books are collected by a local church, parish or community organisation like the WI and while it’s tempting to giggle at the old fashioned recipes involving tinned fruit juice or glace cherries, these pamphlets and books have grown ever more fascinating to me as I’ve been working on Recipes from Brixton Village. Both capture a certain place and community in its time and introduce you to people’s lives through food, conversation and friendliness.

Books like this are a snaphot in time, a glance at history, fashions and people’s celebrations. They tell you as much as family albums and concentrate on home cooking rather than restaurant trends. They welcome you into their community and wider family and they appeal me to much more than the TV tie in cookbooks of recent years, leaving you feeling like you know something about the person who made the food as well as the dish itself.

I think people will enjoy dipping into Recipes from Brixton Village and feeling like they are getting to know the traders through the recipes and Kaylene Alder’s illustrations as much as I enjoy flipping through The Belfast Cook Book by Margaret Bates and seeing the environment my extended family were raised and lived in. I’ve learned things about my Protestant background in Belfast and mid Ulster from the church and WI books I’ve collected recently that I never noticed as a child (mainly that the traybake is a distinctly Prod way of eating…) Food is a very effective way to communicate no matter where you come from.

A recipe that just leapt out at me on this traybake inspired cookbook meandering was the now somewhat unfashionable pineapple cream. A small pastry tart case filled with crushed pineapple and whipped cream before being topped with pineapple water icing, these were a real favourite of me and my granny when I was wee. Trips into Lurgan town centre on market day weren’t complete without two of these in their little foil cases from one of the fantastic (and sorely missed) home bakeries every Northern Irish town centre had in those days.

Shelves at places like O’Hara’s, McErleans, Jeffers or Kennedy’s groaned with baps, farls, pan loaves,  gravy rings and sweet buns, biscuits and tarts. You couldn’t miss the pineapple creams with their vivid yellow toppings and we brought two home in a white paper bag to be eaten with a cuppa at the kitchen table. Strangely I don’t remember eating them with anyone’s else except her and I’ve certainly never heard of anyone making them at home, so it seemed time to try both.

Pineapple Creams (makes one 9″ tart or 12 small tarts)

  • 400g shortcrust pastry (not sweetened)
  • 2 x 425g cans pineapple chunks or crushed pineapple, juiced reserved
  • 400ml double cream
  • 400g icing sugar
  • 100ml boiling pineapple juice
  • pinch of yellow food powder or liquid colouring

I have to admit that I used shopbought pastry for this pineapple cream tart because my homemade stuff shrinks like wool on a boil wash and while I’m trying to work out what I’m doing wrong, I rolled out some commercial shortcrust instead. If you are more pastry proficient than me, this Dan Lepard recipe for pastry is a good basis.

Line a 9″ tart tin or a 12 whole small tart or bun tray and chill the pastry for about 30 minutes before blind baking for 25 minutes on 200°C. Remove the lining and baking beans after this and bake naked for another 5-7 minutes to give a golden finish. Allow the pastry to cool completely.

Drain the pineapple chunks and reserve the juice. These pineapple creams always used crushed pineapple with its soft almost sticky texture but this is much harder to get these days than it used to be. Del Monte sell it or you can simply crush your chunks with a potato masher. Drain off any excess juice after this and layer the pineapple into the tart tin.

Whip the cream and spread it over the pineapple evenly. Smooth the top down as much as possible with a spatula or a palette knife.

Pour the reserved pineapple juice into a saucepan and bring to the boil, adding the food colouring now if using the liquid version. Tip the icing sugar into a large bowl and add the pinch of yellow food powder if using. Pour the hot pineapple juice into a measuring jug and add about 25mls at a time, whisking well. 100ml will give you a loose but not pourable texture, but you might want a drop or two more if it is too stiff to spread. It should be a soft yellow colour rather than looking like the background of a smiley face.

Use a spoon to pour the icing over the cream. It should be thick enough to obscure the cream completely. Allow the icing to set for at least 1 hour before serving. The pineapple will begin to leech its juice after a few hours and the pastry will become sticky and a little difficult to cut in a large tart. No one will notice when they are eating it but don’t make it too far in advance. Serve with tea and a certain amount of nostalgia.

pineapple_cream_in_bakery-01

PS: Recipes from Brixton Village is available from May 22nd. Free P&P at the Kitchen Press website on orders!

IMG_4142

Homemade Vanilla Extract

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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 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!

 

 

fried porridge

Fried Porridge

fried porridgeI am probably constructed half and half from oats and potatoes if you consider my Scottish and Irish heritage. Childhood days started with oats in the form of porridge and ended with spuds for dinner very often. Both are still mainstays of my table even now.

Porridge is surprisingly controversial. People have strong feeling about the type of oat used, the ratio of water and milk and whether salt or sweet and they stick to their guns. I make mine with Flahavans oats if I can get them, using half milk and half water and I add a pinch of salt as the oats cook. This makes it all the right smooth consistency for me without being too creamy and the salt makes it taste much more intense. I then tend to eat mine plain or with some fruit on top if I’m feeling virtuous. Occasionally I have a little drizzle of golden syrup, but I have fairly simple tastes with my porridge.

Others however have magical porridge powers involving spurtles and things like steel cut or pinhead oats and take it all very seriously. They also mention something about a porridge drawer which I was reminded of recently when talking to Caitríona at Wholesome Ireland. This would have been a small section in a dresser where the leftover breakfast porridge was poured and allowed to cool and set before being cut into slices. Children ate when they came home from school or men took it as their ‘piece’ for lunch. A forerunner of the flapjack or the cereal bar basically.

Apparently the porridge drawer was common in both Ireland and Scotland, but I’ve never seen one or eaten from one. Curiosity piqued I asked my dad who grew up on the west coast of Scotland and he remembers the sliced ‘purritch’ being fried up in bacon fat or butter and served for dinner. I love the idea of being able to go savoury or sweet here but I’ve tempted go sweet as I had some leftover spiced butter from making hot buttered rum at Christmas. Read more