sea salt caramels 2

Easy Salted Caramels

sea salt caramels 2

As my blogging career goes on, I grow fonder and fonder of making things with sugar and better and better at it. I always know we’re at the crossover time from autumn to Christmas when I get the urge to boil sugar. There was rather good bacon toffee and hot buttered rum caramels and there was less successful fudge, but this year I wanted something equally sweet and impressive but much simpler to make as gifts.

I found it when I was making brigadeiros for the Brixton Blog. These are a Brazilian party favourite made from cooked condensed milk, cocoa powder and butter and then rolled into a ball and coated in hundreds and thousands. They are all chewy fudgeyness and crunch at once and I have no idea why they aren’t better known outside Brazil.

But that seemed too simple for me. I needed to give the recipes a little poke and twist to make it fit me and my love of condensed milk. I decided to omit the cocoa powder and add sea salt to the condensed milk instead for a lighter creamier, more grown up feel.

And then I remembered I had some popping candy I impulse purchased in Waitrose one day I was killing time in there. I would roll my creations in popping candy and make them pure big kid fun in one easy step. It also looks awesome with the colour of the caramelised condensed milk.

These are a great way to make homemade sweets in under an hour (most of which is cooling time) and for mere pennies if you’re looking for eyecatching gifts over the next few weeks. They’ll keep for about 3 days once rolled in the popping candy or up to 5 if you use that glimmer sugar for baking decoration instead.

Easy Salted Caramels (makes about 25)

  • 1 x 397g tin of condensed milk
  • 25g salted butter
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 25g popping candy

This is so easy and quick to make. Put the entire can of condensed milk into a heavy saucepan along with the butter and sea salt. Heat on a medium heat, stirring constantly. Do not take your eye off it or stop for a second or it will burn.

Enjoy the calming rhythm of stirring and cook the condensed milk this way for about 8 minutes or until it thickens up and looks stiff and leaves a void on the base of the pan when you drag a spatula through it.

Take off the heat immediately and add the vanilla extract, beating it through well. Pour the mixture out onto a lightly greased plate, smoothing it out so it isn’t too thick and leave it to cool for about 45 minutes.

Then using a teaspoon, scoop up a spoonful of the cooled caramel and roll it into a ball. Dredge it through the popping candy and place in a petit four case. Repeat until you have about 25 caramels.

Kids will love the rolling and dredging so feel free to use as much imagination for the coating as you fancy. This is the time to hit up the baking aisle and see what you can find.  You could also try varying the flavours in the caramels and using chopped nuts or desiccated coconut to roll them.

They are unashamedly simple and sweet and utterly delicious, like really good white chocolate. It took more willpower than I thought I had to give mine away…

sea salt caramel


Ecuadorian Potato Patties


I am so invested in my Irish obsessiveness about potatoes that I always forget they are in fact South American in origin and am surprised when I see them in recipes from those regions. An Ecudorian cafe has opened near me and when I Googled what llapingachos were, secretly hoping it involved llama, it turned out to be potato cakes filled with cheese. I’m sure you understand nothing about those words disappointed me despite the lack of weird shaped animal.

Potatoes have become even more important to me since going low fodmap because basically they are my fall back option now when eating out. There are always chips on a menu and for some reason other potato dishes rarely contain onion or garlic. I will never go hungry when there’s a spud around but I like to add to my repetoire of potato recipes where I can.

The original version I found of these sounded lovely but distinctly heavy on the onions. They also come in a hominy corn version I reworked for the Brixton Blog and since I was making a batch of the accompanying peanut sauce, I thought I’d tweak them to be onion free.

I know some fodmappers won’t be able to do the mozzarella inside them due to the higher lactose levels in softer cheeses. You could try using parmesan which is very low lactose or making a lactose free bechamel sauce which you chill and use to fill them instead like potatoey croquetas. Or you could go carnivorous and use leftover meat from a roast or a bit of bacon in the centre instead? I’d say the world is your oyster, but that would be awful here…

Instead of onion, I’ve added lots of green scallion (only the white bit is fodmap unfriendly), fresh parsley and a bit of fresh coriander for flavour. Make sure to use nice starchy baking potatoes and you’ll get a great shape on the patties. I froze some and they cooked well straight from the freezer for a quick brunch that combined champ, potato bread and Ecuador in one.

Ecudorian potato patties with peanut sauce (serves 4)

For the patties:

  • 4 baking potatoes
  • 2 scallions, chopped (green part only if fodmapping)
  • medium bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • medium bunch fresh coriander, chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 125g mozzarella, grated
  • 2 -4 tablespoons vegetable oil

For the peanut sauce:

  • 4 tablespoons crunchy peanut butter
  • 250ml milk (non dairy or lactose free is fine)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground achiote (see below)
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce (use tamari if wheat free)
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • salt and pepper
  • fresh coriander, chopped
  • 1 red chilli, chopped or teaspoon hot sauce (optional)

These patties are super easy to make. I had the best results baking my potatoes to keep them drier and starchier and by baking, I mean shoving the baking spuds I bought in the microwave whole two at a time for 12 minutes. If you have the oven for something else, then use that method.

Allow the potatoes to cool down enough to handle them and split them in half and scoop the middles out into a bowl. Add the scallions and fresh herbs and season and mix in well.

Wet your hands slightly and scoop out a handful of the potaro mix into a ball, flattening it slightly onto a plate or lined baking tray. Using your thumbs, push outwards from the centre to make a hollow. Fill with grated mozzarella and then cover the cheese up again with potato so it’s completely hidden. You may need a little pinch of extra potato from the bowl.

Repeat until you have between 10 and 12 patties. Any cheese that doesn’t fit works incredibly well straight into your mouth as you put the patties into the fridge to chill for at least 30 minutes. They’ll be fine in there for up to 24 hours so make ahead if you like.

When you are ready to eat them, heat the oil in a frying pan on a medium high heat and fry the patties for about 3 minutes each side. They should get a nice crisp crust without burning and the cheese is melted. I did about 4 at a time and kept the first batches warm in a low oven.

As the patties fry, make the peanut sauce by mixing the peanut butter with the milk over a low heat. I used the Sainsbury’s Basics peanut butter I had which is slightly sweetened and it was fine so don’t worry about fancy stuff if you don’t have it.

Add the spices once the peanut butter and milk combines. Achiote is a seed used in South American cooking (and known as annatto in the Caribbean). It adds a warm yellow colour and a slightly spicy flavour not unlike nutmeg. It’s not fodmap tested and if you don’t want to use it or can’t get it, substitute it with 1/2 teaspoon more of paprika and 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg. Add the juice of the lime and the soy sauce and then take the peanut sauce off the heat and stir through the fresh coriander and chilli if using.

Serve the patties as hot as possible with the peanut sauce on the side and some fried eggs on top. A little tomato salsa or avocado if you can eat them wouldn’t go amiss either. A dish like this reminds me why brunch is a brilliant thing.





Fodmap Friendly Chicken Liver Pate

pateA recent health glitch involving the gallbladder I had removed when I was 18 means I’ve been stuck in the house recuperating for the last week or so. In between Googling to see if I need to see a gastroenterologist or an exorcist, I’ve almost been enjoying being round the house so much. The last few months have been a whirlwind of activity and it’s oddly comforting to have the chance to start doing more cooking than I’ve managed recently.

Coinciding with the weather becoming distinctly autumnal, the slow cooker has come back into action for more than just a whole chicken or a shoulder of pork and I’ve been enjoying de-fodmapping recipes from Slow Cooked and rediscovering some old favourites. I’ve also been meal planning again rather just eating variations of meat, rice and spinach for dinner every night in a fodmap inspired food funk.

I’ve managed to roast a chicken, make soup from it and whip up a batch of ragu that filled the freezer and made some Tuesday night cannelloni so far in the slow cooker. I felt extremely organised in between naps until I realised I’d managed to forget to put the chicken livers I’d defrosted into the ragu…

Armed with a tub of previously frozen offal and the memory of having to chuck a bag of mince in the bin the previous week because I’d been too ill to eat it, I couldn’t bring myself to throw more food out and my mind turned to pate.

I love love love pate. One of my great comfort foods has always been pate on toast. It’s a thing of joy to have a good pate filled with duck or chicken livers whether you go for rugged and chunky or smooth as silk. I even like the ones of more dubious provenance piled inch thick on toasted cheap white bread. Pate is my jam.

Except that all pate one can buy contains alliums. It’s a festival of shallots/garlic/onions/delete as applicable and thus out of the reach of my sticky little paws now. Even my own slow cooker version uses shallot. And just to add annoyance, there is often dried fruit too. I needed to adapt it but not lose flavour.

I decided to go creative and try to use up leftovers. A half drunk bottle of red wine went over the chicken livers to marinate them and depth. Since I’m supposed to watching my fat intake so as not stress my gallbladder area out and I’m not up to going out to buy double cream, I roasted some pumpkin with caraway seeds and fresh thyme to use instead. I browned some butter and fried the livers lightly in it.

Everything got blitzed together with a splash of brandy and it all went into the slow cooker in ramekins. Once cooked and cooled, I covered the tops of the ramekins with clarified butter and froze the ramekins inside a bag. Each one takes about an hour to defrost so I can have no fuss, low energy allium free lunches with ease and extra smugness.

Fodmap Friendly Chicken Liver Pate (serves 4)

  • 250g chicken livers
  • 100ml red wine
  • 100g pumpkin (or sweet potato if not sensitive)
  • 150g butter (see below for instructions)
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon brandy or red wine
  • dash lemon juice

Whether your chicken livers are fresh or frozen, it’s best to gently rinse them and remove any discoloured patches. Then carefully remove the gallbladders that are attached. These make the pate bitter otherwise. The irony of doing this to a chicken while my body was reacting to someone doing it to me was not lost on me. At least they gave me the good drugs at the same time.

Put the chicken livers in a non metallic bowl and put the red wine over them. Marinate for at least an hour or preferably overnight. This is the one time it’s appropriate to soak your liver in red wine.

While the livers do their thing, roast your pumpkin (or sweet potato or butternut squash if non fodmapping). I buy wedges of pumpkin in Brixton market and roast them chopped into chunks with the skin still on and then peel it off when it cooked.

You’re going to go through the cooking life cycle of butter next. Put all 150g in the pan, chopped into small cubes and melt it gently. Simmer it until it starts to foam and reduce and when the foaming dies down and it stops moving, pour half the butter through a sieve that you’ve lined with some muslin or a clean cloth into a bowl. The clear butter you collect is your clarified butter. Set aside until needed.

Then brown the remaining butter. Keep stirring it over a slightly higher heat and let it heat until the butter foams furiously again and turns brown and smells nutty but not burned. Watch it closely and take it off the heat at this point, pouring it into a clean bowl to cool slightly. You need to do this even though you’re going to cook in it because otherwise it will burn when you heat it again.

Heat the browned butter in a frying pan on a medium heat and when it bubbles slightly, add the chicken livers and the fresh thyme and caraway seeds. Keeping the livers moving the whole time, cook it all for 2 minutes. It’s fine if they are still pink in the middle.

Take the pan off the heat and tip the contents into a large bowl along with the cooking juices, add the pumpkin and lemon juice and with a handblender, blitz it all until it is smooth and silky looking. Add the splash of brandy and put into ramekins.

Set these in the slow cooker crock and fill it halfway with boiling water and put the lid on and cook on low for 2 hours. Or set them into a roasting tin, fill halfway with water and bake in the oven at 140℃ for 45 minutes. Either way when cooked, lift out of the water and allow them to cool.

Pour enough of your clarified butter over each cooled ramekin of pate to cover the surface well. You may need to melt it again first. You don’t want it an inch thick but enough to be noticeable. Allow it to cool and thicken. Pop the ramekins of pate in a freezer bag and seal. Freeze for up to 3 months or eat the pate from the fridge within 3 days.

I was delighted that I froze three quarters of my pate because when I started eating it in front of Don’t Tell The Bride that evening, it was so beautifully smooth and delicious I could have worked my way through the whole lot in one sitting. This way I got to feel smug that I was pacing myself and lying in bed eating pate instead of letting a man organise me a wedding I would hate. What a perfect evening.




Homemade Mayonnaise

mayonnaiseWhen I moved to London in the early 2000s, it was a mythical land where you could afford the rent to live in Zone 1 and had to actually go out of your way to find a branch of Pret a Manger. Clutching a crayfish and rocket sarnie at lunch in those was a statement (mainly that you weren’t doing Atkins) but also that you were in some way young and trendy.

That feeling lasted about six months and then I realised that Pret’s utter obsession with mayonnaise was ruining my life. The occasional sandwich I bought from there was limp with the stuff. They applied it to unsuspecting bread the way estate agents apply gel to their hair. I didn’t just stop eating in Pret; I stopped eating mayonnaise completely.

I suddenly, after a childhood spent smuggling tubes of lemon juiced spiked Continental stuff home from Italy and eating potato salad at any opportunity, couldn’t even look at the stuff. Where only ‘low fat’ mayonnaise had seemed to have that shudderingly globular appearance, all mayonnaise started to resemble something as slick and oily as Vaseline.

I couldn’t bear it. I pitched myself firmly in team salad cream and only ventured back to Pret when they made the Jamon Buerre easier to get. My potato salad went vinaigrette based. And then on August Bank Holiday I woke up and craved mayonnaise so badly I almost made the effort to go out in the rain to get some.

It is testament to my combination of dedication to not getting dressed and agoraphobia that I decided it would actually be easier to just make my own homemade version for the first time. I had eggs, I had oil, I had a whisk and I had nothing better to do.

Turns out making it from scratch is quicker than trying to find a clean bra, locate your purse and find out where Tesco Express have moved everything to this time. It’s also easier and more fulfilling in every possible way. I had no fear of it splitting on me having heard a little trick from my friend Adriana about adding a teaspoon of water to the egg yolk first to stabilise it all (this article explains why but the video autoplays.)

I used some beautiful golden rapeseed oil from Broighter Gold from Northern Ireland to add some summer feel to my grey kitchen and then added dill, capers and anchovies. I ate it dolloped onto homemade oven chips and congratulated myself heartily on my life choices. The rest went into the most magnificient egg sandwich I’ve ever eaten to keep the Bank Holiday joy alive on a Tuesday.

Homemade Mayonnaise (makes about a cupful)

  • 1 egg yolk
  • pinch sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon water
  • 45ml olive or rapeseed or garlic infused oil
  • 75ml flavourless oil such as sunflower oil
  • flavourings of choice such as lemon, mustard, fresh herbs etc

This is incredibly easy and much less hard work than you’d expect. I didn’t actually find it tiring to make and I’ve got spectacularly low energy levels. I wanted a mix of flavoured oil and something neutral so have gone for the balance above to allow you to add more flavours in as desired. Garlic infused oil is fodmap friendly so this a great way to add garlickiness to meals.

Separate your egg and put the yolk into a deep bowl. Beat lightly with a balloon whisk and add a pinch of salt. Add exactly a teaspoon of cold water and beat it in slightly.

Mix your two oils together in a small jug and start off by dripping a few drops of them into the egg yolk while beating steadily. Almost instantly you get a foreshadowing of what will happen and it starts to emulsify. Beat until the oil is combined and then add a drip or two more, repeating three of four times.

Start to add the oil a little more generously at this point as the mayonnaise goes from cautious baby steps to all singing all dancing emulsifying. It literally comes together into a smooth glossy miracle. It’s like comparing an Arab horse to the Shetland pony of commercial brands like Hellmans.

Leave it as it is or add a squirt of lemon and a pinch of mustard powder if you want a good basic mayonnaise you could lick off your fingers in joy. Allow your imagination to take over if you want to personalise it to a particular dish or desire. If I can crack making a garlic free harissa paste soon then that’s my next batch of this sorted.

You can scale the amounts up but remember it does involve raw egg so it will only keep for a day or two in the fridge and if you want more, you can just make more. This is the kind of stuff that impresses the hell out of people no matter their condiment of choice!

mayo & chips

gherkin soup

Gherkin Soup

gherkin soupI have several loves in my life. Black eyeliner. Slow cookers. Carmex. But my heart really belongs to gherkins. Just say the word to yourself. It’s delightful to utter. It looks comical to write. And you get to decide how deep your relationships with people will be depending how they feel about them in burgers.

I always keep a jar in the house and have to ration myself from crunching through a gherkin every time I open the fridge (and yes, I know pickling preserves them. There’s just more room in there.) I garnish sandwiches with them and add them to salads, but I’ve never cooked with them.

Like most people, by late August, I’m in courgette apathy. Allotmenteers have gluts of them, but for fodmappers like me, this lasts all year as they are one of the few vegetables I can eat.

Staring glumly at a courgette on a chilly August lunchtime, I wondered how I could perk things up a bit. Deciding soup would be more acceptable than turning the heating on, I used a jar of gherkins to add some bite and interest to the whole thing. My Polish friends might clutch their pearls in horror at how inauthentic it all is but it tasted great and made courgettes interesting again.

Gherkin Soup (serves 2)

  • 1 large courgette, grated
  • 1 large potato, grated
  • 1 parmesan rind or 25g grated parmesan
  • 1 anchovy fillet
  • 450ml stock (vegetable or chicken)
  • 100g gherkins, chopped finely
  • 25g fresh dill or parsley, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon sour cream

This is so easy and quick, writing the recipe out as a blogpost definitely took longer than cooking it from scratch (and I’m a speedy writer!)

Peel the potato and grate it and the courgette on the largest hole of a box grater and put into a large saucepan and cover with the stock. Add the anchovy fillet and the parmesan rind if you are using it. I stash mine in the freezer in a Tupperware until needed.

Simmer for about 10 minutes until the veg is soft and the anchovy has dissolved. I’m still working on a homemade fodmap friendly stock as it’s the place I miss the depth of onion the most, but I’m using the Knorr Touch of Taste one from a bottle. It’s onion and chicory fibre free for fodmappers and the least cheap roast chicken crisp flavoured commercial one I’ve found. Stop me if I sound too like Marco Pierre White though…

Fish the parmesan rind out and add in the chopped gherkins. Chuck in the grated parmesan if you’re using it instead and carefully blitz the soup with a stick blender, remembering hot liquids expand.

Add the chopped dill (I went fancy and added the parsley too. Mint would work if you are a dill-phobe) and stir in the sour cream and serve. It’s the perfect late summer soup, all fresh and tangy but warming and soothing at the same time. I’ve made it twice in a week which means my gherkin usage is about to fill my whole recycling bag singlehanded, but who cares when it’s this good?