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Slow Cooker Carrot Halwa Cake

halwa cake

 

Slow Cooked finally hit the shelves this week and what could be a better way to celebrate than a cake? (Clue: it has a cork you can pop, but I digress.) And what could be better than a cake you weren’t expecting? Surprise cake is, of course, always the best.

After months of feeling like I couldn’t really talk slow cooker stuff on the blog or Twitter so you didn’t feel that all the best stuff in Slow Cooked had been given away before you got your copy, publication has released my inner slow cooker mojo again. I’ve felt hugely inspired to cook again in the slow cooker and I’ve been keen to try new techniques again.

I happened to see Imran from Elephant in Brixton Village during the week as we promote the Brixton Blog crowdfunder and since it was the first really cold day in there of the autumn/winter, he had made some fantastic warming semolina in the tradition of very sweet comfort dishes from Pakistan and India and it got me thinking how much I love those milky desserts from the subcontinent.

I have a particular love for gajar ka halwa or carrot pudding which is made from slow cooking carrots and milk into a soft sticky super charged version of condensed milk sprinkled with pistachios to serve. I’ve had a notion to make it in the slow cooker for ages and wouldn’t you know it, I had a whole bag of carrots needing used up.

Unfortunately I didn’t have any of my usual storecupboard standby of evaporated milk and had to use whole milk instead which has a tendency to become a little bit grainy and burnt tasting in the slow cooker. I then compounded this by stupidly setting it to high rather than low and leaving it in about three hours longer than needed, ending up with curdled looking milk and halwa that wasn’t aesthetically pleasing enough to eat on its own this time. It worked perfectly next time though with the right milks. Evap and condensed milks are slow cooker saviours.

Rather than throw it in the bin, it occured to me that it could be recycled into a amazing spiced carrot cake which is how I came to be celebrating my second book this year with a whole cake to myself. To be fitting, I baked it in the slow cooker itself which is basically a slightly more grown up version of those Easy-Bake ovens you get when you’re a kid. Thanks to The Crafty Larder, Farmersgirl Kitchen and BakingQueen74, I’ve discovered you can use cake tin liners in the slow cooker instead of the sheets of reusable baking liner I’ve been using and you can create easy slab style cakes without greasing tins and turning the oven on.

Slow Cooker Carrot Halwa Cake (adapted from Recipes from Brixton Village)

For the halwa:

  • 500g carrots, peeled and grated
  • 1 x 400ml can evaporated milk
  • 1 x 297ml can condensed milk
  • 75g light brown sugar
  • 6-8 green cardamom pods, seeds crushed
  • pinch sea salt
  • 50g sliced pistachios to serve
  • 50g sliced almonds to serve

For the cake:

  • 200ml sunflower or vegetable oil
  • 200g sugar
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 200g self raising flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 350g halwa (or grated carrot)
  • 1 tablespoon ginger cordial (optional)
  • 300g cream cheese
  • 50g icing sugar
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced

Start by making your halwa. It’s incredibly simple if you don’t oversleep like I did and overcook it. Peel and grate your carrots, either with a box grater or food processor. Place into a slow cooker crock you have greased slightly with oil or butter. Press the carrots down so they are half way between loose and tightly packed.

Pour the evaporated and condensed milks over them. Sprinkle with the sugar, salt and cardamom and then put the lid on. Traditionally a pinch of saffron would be used too, but I don’t have it in my kitchen. Set the slow cooker to low and cook for 8 hours. The carrots will soften and break down into the slow cooked milk which creates a toffeeish dish. Stir the nuts through it. You could serve it as it is, but it was fantastic in the cake.

The cake is adapted from page 153 of Recipes from Brixton Village and uses the technique of whipping oil and sugar together to a syrup to make the moistest cake possible. This carrot cake is so good it has stopped me pining for my lost recipe for Nigella’s Venetian carrot cake from Vogue.

Line your slow cooker with a sheet of reusable baking liner or set a 9 inch cake tin liner into the crock. I find it’s easiest to line it first then set the liner in as you only have to lift one sheet that way instead of fumble with oven gloves.

Pour the oil into a large bowl and using an electric hand whisk, beat the sugar into it for about 3-4 minutes until it is a glossy syrup. Add the egg yolks one at a time. The mixture will get glossier with each one.

Beat in the flour, spices, halwa and ginger cordial if using, stopping when combined. Wash the beaters of your electric whisk well and in a clean grease free bowl, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks. Fold them into the mix to create a light pillowy looking batter.

Pour the batter into your prepared slow cooker. Cover the top of the crock with double folded kitchen towel or a clean tea towel. This stops the condensation in the slow cooker from dripping down into your cake and making it damp. I prefer the kitchen roll as I find the tea towel can lower the temperature of the slow cooker too much and add cooking time. Bake the cake for 2 hours 30 minutes. Check the centre with a toothpick. It should come out clean. Give it another 20 minutes even time if it doesn’t.

Lift the cake out and cool on a rack. If using the liner, don’t peel it away until the cake is completely cooled or the little edge bits will pull off and the cake will look picked at. Make the frosting by beating the cream cheese, icing sugar and lemon juice and zest together.

Use a bread knife to carefully cut across the cake from side to side to create two sandwich layers. Fill with the zesty cream cheese frosting and serve in slices. It will keep for 48 hours with the frosting and 5 days without. I have to say, it didn’t last that long in my house…

 

Slow Cooked Giant African Land Snails

SnailsI was a weird kid. Cutely weird, rather than scary weird, and few habits of mine were weirder than my obsession with snails. Something about these slow shelled creatures fascinated me and I collected anything to do with them from live one from the garden to the snail shaped sponge that turned out to be a seahorse on its side…

The fascination reached its peak when I got myself a pet Giant African Land Snail through the post when I was about twelve. Snails of all kinds are haemphrodites and when everything aligns right, they make babies in the kind of numbers that make rabbits look slow to breed. Some woman on’t telly had an African Land Snail that has so many offspring she was desperate to offload a few.

Postal order for P&P paid and enough months later to have forgotten about the Crazy Snail Lady, the postman rang the bell and handed me a baby formula tin marked ‘snails in transit’. Once the snail mail jokes had subsided, I opened it and looked for the mollusc inside. Nestled right in the bottom of the tin, amongst the wet kitchen roll, was a snail the size of my little fingernail.

Immediately christening it Pumpkin in honour of it being Hallowe’en when it arrived, it was whisked off to live in a peat filled fish tank in the bathroom. It was a snail’s life hanging out on a flowerpot or a piece of cuttlefish, absorbing some cucumber and porridge oats and squelching around slimily in the middle of the night. For several years I adored it even though you definitely can’t cuddle a snail and it does very little. Then I realised I was about to leave home for uni and and had no desire to take it with me. A ad went in the local vet’s waiting room and a few months later that now not so small snail went to live with some local little boys, and I presume some puppy dog tails.

pumpkin the snailI didn’t think much about snails again until I moved to Brixton when I saw baskets of African Land Snails in the market for eating. Some people were oddly sentimental about them, setting up a protest group in their honour and rightly having some concern about how the snails are kept, often handling them rather unhygiencally themselves. Most people however buy them for dinner and don’t give much thought to their welfare.

My thoughts turned to them when I started writing Recipes from Brixton Village. They are one of the things people associate with the market and it seemed right that the book had a recipe for them. I asked several of the Nigerian traders if they would be keen to do so, but none were. I was going to have to do it myself.

I nipped into Vivo Afro Caribbean foods and asked for snails. They all tittered at the crazy white girl as they brought three out from the back, expecting me to recoil at the size of them. I explained I knew them well as I’d had one as a pet and waited while they wiped away tears of mirth before getting a bag of alum to go with them for cleaning them. I then gulped at the fact they were three for a tenner and took them home.

Already nervous about actively killing my first creature for dinner myself, I kept them in the fridge overnight so they wouldn’t come out of their shell. I then scrubbed their shells clean, rinsed them under the tap and took them out to the patio and laid them out to break the shells.

Bearing in mind I am still soppy enough about snails that I avoid walking on them on rain soaked paths and take them on long walks from my garden, it took quite some psyching myself up to do the deed. In fact, it took a large sherry, about 40 minutes of mental preparation and repeated checking that my neighbours couldn’t see me with three giant snails, a pair of rubber gloves and a pestle and mortar.

Eventually I plucked up the courage to crack the shells, giving one a bloody great wallop with my stone pestle. The shell rocked slightly and nothing happened. I whacked it again and again before I lost my nerve and finally the shell shattered. It felt brutal and slightly traumatising for me, so I dread to think what the snail thought.

Following Kitchen Butterfly’s directions, I carefully pulled the shell away from the inner foot. Those things are razor sharp which accounts for the Marigolds. Pausing to look at how the snail’s quivering grey innards are neatly rolled up inside the shell, I cut this sac away from the foot, killing the snail.

snail guts 2I eat meat. I eat quite a lot of meat and I’m not especially squeamish. This simple cut challenged all my feelings and principles about eating animals in one flick of a knife. I know they say you should never eat your dinner if you can’t kill it first, but something about this felt so strange to a city girl who has never caught a fish or trapped a rabbit. I felt a surprising amount of guilt over an invertebrate. And I had two more to kill…

I brought my three snails inside and cut down the foot to butterfly them. Turning the radio to some Dolly Parton and the tap to cold, I scrubbed the snails with the alum rocks to loosen the slime. And there was a lot of slime. I kept the Marigolds on and still I got a sense of what it must be like to have been gunged on kids’ TV in the 80s. Each one took a good 20 minutes scrubbing to get them fairly clean.

I soaked them in cold water while I raided the sherry bottle further and texted my editor to tell her what I was doing. When I looked, there was more slime. I scrubbed further bent over the sink trying to fathom how my Sunday afternoon had come to this and deciding it was still more fun as a job than working in Selfridges was.

Eventually the snails were spotless and slime free. Two went into the pot to braise for two hours as per the recipe in the book. The third went into the slow cooker to simmer in stock for eight hours.

I finished the stove braised snails off as the recipe in the books suggests and still reeling from the experience, lured two friends round with the promise of Brixton Brewery IPA. We each ate a small piece and struggled with the cartilege like texture, preferring to get stuck into the beer. Their 19 month old daughter however loved them, going back for more to the point where she had to be stopped for fear she’d spoil her dinner.

After they went home and I’d swept up all the shards of shell, I tried the third snail and found the texture much improved by such a long cooking in liquid. Still not exactly tender, it was much more like my Western palate is used to and with lots of chilli and pomegranate molasses, it was edible.

I didn’t suffer any indigestion or ill effects from eating the snails, but I dreamt of huge steam train sized snails chasing me as I slept. They weren’t angry with me for killing and cooking their cousins, just disappointed in me. Who knew a gently waving feeler could contain so many emotions? If I hadn’t known it before I started the recipe, I knew it now: snails neither make good pets or entrees in my life, just lovely illustrations instead.

Kaylene snail unframed

PS: don’t forget to vote for Recipes from Brixton Village as Best New Cookbook in the Observer Food Monthly Awards. Do it in memory of the molluscs…

 

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

St Patrick’s Day Okonomiyaki

okonomiyakiI have no idea what the adjective for Irish-Japanese fusion food is, but we need one. Both Ireland and Japan love a bit of cabbage and seaweed (and whiskey). Their cuisines have more in common than you’d think.

This idea came from Mister North who having seen the design for Recipes from Brixton Village on mentions the recipes he is most excited by as he reads. Okonomiyaki is a Japanese pancake made primarily from cabbage, but the number of spring onions (or more accurately scallions) in it made him think it overlapped with the Northern Irish delicacy of champ.

Since okonomiyaki means ‘as you like it’ I wondered if I could make a champ based version for St Patrick’s Day. I have grown to love okonomiyaki after Motoko Priestman opened Okan in Brixton Village, dishing up a variety of okonomiyaki in the Osaka style. My favourite is the mochi and cheese, but this is a little like choosing your favourite pet or child as they are all fabulous in their own way.

There are few more filling and healthy lunches than an okonomiyaki making it perfect for fortifying one’s self if you’ve had a few swallies the night before. I’ve gone stereotypically Irish here with bacon, cabbage and scallions. Annoyingly I was seaweed-less but some nori or dulse on top would have been perfect. I also varied from the usual topping of mayonnaise to use a creamy buttermilk dressing and omitted the typical okonomiyaki or ‘burnt sauce’ that tastes like ketchup combined with HP sauce.

St Patrick’s Day Okonomiyaki (adapted from Recipes from Brixton Village)

Serves 1

  • 50g pancetta or bacon cubes
  • 150g sweetheart cabbage, shredded finely
  • 2 scallions, chopped
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 50g potato, grated
  • 50g plain flour
  • pinch sea salt
  • pinch brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 50-75ml water
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 tablespoon buttermilk or yoghurt
  • 1 teaspoon mayonnaise
  • salt and pepper
  • seaweed flakes to serve

Okonomiyaki usually has toppings like thinly sliced squid, belly pork, prawns or cheese which are cooked as the pancake itself cooks, but because I only had thick cubes of bacon, I’ve cooked them first as they might still have been raw otherwise. Pan fry until crisp round the edges.

Shred the cabbage in very thin slices and then break it up into individual shreds with your hands into a large bowl. Add the cooked bacon and any fat from the pan. Thinly slice the scallions and add in. Beat the egg into it all. Set aside.

Take a skillet or heavy pan and heat on a high heat for about 3-4 minutes while you make the batter. Don’t add the oil at this point.

Prepare your batter by grating the potato in a bowl and adding the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Crack the egg into it and beat it in. Add enough of the water to make the whole thing a soft and pourable batter. Stir quickly but without overmixing. Pour 3/4s of the batter into the cabbage and bacon and mix lightly. Set the rest of the batter aside.

Add the oil in the pan and turn it down to a medium-low heat. Put the cabbage batter into the pan, smoothing it out from a heap to a thick pancake. Don’t push it right down to knock the air out. Cook the okonomiyaki for about 3 minutes.

Pour the remaining batter on top of it all. This would usually help seal the toppings into the okonomiyaki. Carefully flip the okonomiyaki over and cook on the other side for about 2-3 minutes. The base of the okonomiyaki will be quite dark from the hot pan but you want the top a bit paler.

Serve on a plate, paler side up and drizzle with the buttermilk dressing. Sprinkle with the seaweed flakes and a few spare scallion slices if you have them. Eat immediately and experience the perfect cross between a pancake, boxty and a potato farl. You may fancy a wee stout on the side. I had good strong tea instead.

Recipes from Brixton Village - front cover

Recipes from Brixton Village will be published on May 22nd 2014 from independent bookshops and the Kitchen Press website. It can be pre-ordered now for delivery as soon as it’s published.

Testing Times

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Balancing two recipe books at the moment is fascinating. Recipes from Brixton Village, which I’ve just been doing more edits on, is primarily recipes from professional cooks and chefs that I’ve been testing, editing and writing up while Slow Cooked is all my own recipes, created from scratch.

Both books complement each other beautifully and I’m enjoying the challenge and privilege of writing them. Testing other people’s recipes has improved my skills at testing my own, but that doesn’t stop me having a moment when things just don’t work. I’ve only had two or three total failures in the slow cooker since I started testing but it knocks me when it happens. I feel a momentary wobble in my own confidence and then a sense of guilt at throwing out food.

I mentioned this last week on Twitter and people suggested that I needed the company of a canine who would chomp down on anything to counter that one. Sadly the only furry friends near my house are the local squirrels and I’m not sure how fond they are of risotto…

However someone else made an excellent point about kitchen failures. Your failures make your successes possible. And your anecdotes funnier quite often. This got me thinking. When I first starting blogging, I was following other people’s recipes and generally massacring them as I went. Dan Lepard even had to tweet me to try and troubleshoot me wrecking one of his foolproof cakes. Those mistakes gave me something to write about and they taught me how to cook and eventually how to create my own recipes.

I look back on the slow cooked broccoli or my infamous salt fish and leek stir fry or the celeriac and clove soup that tasted like mouthwash with a celery stalk stirrer with amused fondness. I am immensely grateful to my mum who ate everything I cooked when I was 19 and learning my way round the kitchen, even though most of it was probably awful. I’m even more tolerant of those dim and distant Home Economics lessons with rock cakes you could have used as a door stop and ratatouille that more resembled a chemical weapon than a side dish.

Without all those dishes, I wouldn’t have learned to trust my instincts and skills and understand the formula of a recipe instead of simply following the steps. I may have had to go to bed hungry on several occasions after ruining the only food in the house, but it was well worth it long term. I just have to remind myself that mistakes now are all still part of that process and a way to keep myself focused.

They also make my successes something to feel really pleased about. You’re never too experienced not to feel a frisson when your cake rises perfectly or your roasties are the best ever or something else comes together just the right way. The only better feeling is when people use my recipes and enjoy them. There’s something amazing about sharing those recipes and the way it introduces you to new people, places and influences. It makes up for the moments when you ruin 2 kilos of marmalade for sure!

What about you? Do mistakes in the kitchen give you new impetus or send you back to the ready meals? Can you laugh at your mistakes or do you hide them from everyone else?