Friday, 27 April 2012

Mushroom and Thyme Risotto with Pancetta

Mushroom and Thyme Risotto with Pancetta

I have a new love in my life.  It is slightly embarrassing, but ho hum, here goes, it's... Morrisons.  Yep, the supermarket.  Let me explain, a couple of weeks ago, I visited one of their newfangled fresh market stores and I was utterly blown away.  On sale was the most varied and interesting fruit and veg I have ever seen.  Things that I had never even seen before! It was amazing and I got stupidly excited.  Ohh and there's mist (!).  Some genius has come up with the idea that by spraying a fine mist over the vegetables, it keeps them perkier for longer.  It also looks like some 80's music video (it's the dry ice effect), which is pretty awesome. 

Anyways, I took a trip there (upsettingly, none of these stores are close to me, so it was a special trip) and came across some cool 'shrooms.  I got giant King Oysters, dainty egg yellow chantarelles, and... wait for it... BLUE mushrooms.  Blue! I just had to have them.  

With such ace ingredients I had to make something that would put the mushrooms center stage, so what better way than with a delicious mushroom risotto.  At home, I had some chestnut mushrooms, and also some dried mushrooms waiting to be used, so I added them to the mushroom mix.  The risotto with the mushrooms, thyme and pancetta turned out to be damn good.  Try it.  It's yum...

Make enough for two, plus left overs

Knob of Butter
1 Stick of Celery, finely chopped
1 Medium Onion, finely chopped
2 Fat Cloves of Garlic, finely chopped
150g Arborio Risotto Rice (Roughly one mug full)
Small Glass of White Wine
The leaves from a few springs of Fresh Thyme
500ml Hot Stock (Chicken or Vegetable)
Roughly 500g - 700g of Mixed Fresh Mushrooms, chopped.  I used Chestnut, King Oyster, Blue Stalk and Chanterelles.  Use the most interesting you can find - not the boring white mushrooms!    
Small Handful of Dried Mushrooms 
Freshly grated Parmesan
2-3 bits of Pancetta or Smoked Streaky Bacon per person

  1. In a mug put the dried mushrooms and pour in some just boiled water to about halfway.  Stir and leave to soak for at least 30 minutes (or see packet instructions). 
  2. Put the butter in a large saucepan over a medium-low heat and add in the celery, onions and garlic.  Stir regularly and cook for about 5 minutes, without letting it colour.  
  3. Stir in the rice and let it cook for 2 minutes, constantly stirring. 
  4. Add in the white wine and stir.  Let it bubble for 3 or so minutes.  Keep stirring so that the rice doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan
  5. Add in the chopped  fresh mushrooms. the sprigs of thyme and half of the stock, stir. 
  6. Drain the soaked dried mushrooms but reserve the mushroomy water. 
  7. Finely chop the soaked mushrooms and stir into the risotto along with the mushroomy water. 
  8. Keep stirring the risotto every minute or so.  When most of the stock in the risotto has been absorbed. add in the rest of the stock.  
  9. In a frying pan, fry the pancetta or bacon until crispy, drain and cut up into pieces.  
  10.  By the time most of the stock in the risotto has been absorbed, the risotto rice should be cooked.  If not, add a bit more stock (or water).  You want the risotto to be quite oozy, so if it looks too thick, add in some stock or water to loosen it. 
  11. Take the risotto of the heat, stir in a good grating of Parmesan, fresh black pepper and taste.  Add more pepper, and salt if needed.  
  12. Scatter over the pancetta pieces, few thyme leaves and a bit of grated Parmesan and serve. 

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Chocolate and Vanilla Cupcakes with Marshmallow Fluff Frosting

Chocolate and Vanilla Cupcakes with Marshmallow Fluff Frosting

Last Christmas, I was given a jar of Marshmallow Fluff (lucky me), and not knowing quite what to do with it, I popped it in my baking cupboard where it has sat, lurking there ever since.  Quite possibly the most unhealthiest thing ever to grace my kitchen cupboards, Marshmallow Fluff is diabetes in a jar.  Jawachingly sweet, it sticks to the roof of your mouth (and anywhere else that I manage to get it) like superglue.  Surprising then, that it's actually quite tasty (I've been sneakily eating it by the spoonful.. shh).

Well, the 'Fluff is nearly out of date and I needed to use it up pronto.  Aside from making a Fluffernutter (google it... its not as rude as it sounds), I wanted to turn it into a frosting to top some lovely cupcakes.

But what flavour cupcakes? I couldn't decide on just one... So I decided to make Vanilla AND Chocolate (ooh how extravagant)...

The cake mix below will make approximately 18 cupcakes.

For the Vanilla Cupcakes:

4oz Golden Caster Sugar
4oz Butter
2 Medium Eggs (lightly whisked)
3 1/2 oz Self Raising Flour
1/2 oz Cornflour
Small Pinch of Salt
2 Teaspoons of Vanilla Extract (the proper stuff)

For the Chocolate Cupcakes:

4oz Golden Caster Sugar
4oz Butter
2 Medium Eggs (lightly whisked)
3 oz Self Raising Flour
1/2 oz Cornflour
1/2 oz Cocoa
Small Pinch of Salt
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/ 160C Fan / Gas Mark 4
  2. Line a muffin tin with cases - you will probably need to cook the cupcakes in two batches, unless your luckily enough to have two cupcake tins.  
To Make the Vanilla Cupcakes:
  1. In a bowl beat to together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy (this will take a few minutes).
  2. Sift in the flour, cornflour and salt mix and half of the lightly whisked eggs, and gently beat in to the butter and sugar. 
  3. Add the rest of the eggs and the vanilla extract and beat until fully mixed.  Take care not to over mix.
To Make the Chocolate Cupcakes:
  1. In a bowl beat to together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy (this will take a few minutes).
  2. Sift in the flour, cocoa, cornflour and salt mix and half of the lightly whisked eggs, and gently beat in to the butter and sugar. 
  3. Add the rest of the eggs and beat until fully mixed. Take care not to over mix.
To Make the Marbling:
  1. Using a dessert spoon put a dollop of the chocolate mix into each of the cupcake cases.
  2. Then, using the vanilla mix put another dollop into the cases, on top of the chocolate mix.  
  3. Using a sharp knife, gently swirl the mixes together.  You don't want to totally mix them up or you'll lose the marble effect.  
  4. The two spoonfuls of cake mix (one vanilla, one chocolate) should fill the cases about 1/2 or 3/4 way full.  If not, top it up with a little bit of either cake mix, so that they are (no more than) 3/4 full.

5. Put the cakes into the oven for 15 minutes or until done (put a skewer through the biggest one and it should come out clean).  Resist the temptation to open the oven door for at least 10 minutes or your cakes may not rise so well.  

6. Leave the cakes to cool for several hours (or overnight) or the frosting will melt.

For the Marshmallow Fluff Frosting:

1 Jar of Marshmallow Fluff
60g Unsalted Butter, cut into cubes
400g Icing Sugar, sifted
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
2 Tablespoons (or so) of Milk
Gel food colouring (optional)

  1. Scoop (as best you can) the Marshmallow Fluff into a bowl and beat for a few minutes using an electric whisk.
  2. Beat in the butter, one cube at a time, until it is all fully incorporated. 
  3. Sift in half of the icing sugar and the vanilla extract and mix.  
  4. Sift in the rest of the icing sugar and beat.  You will probably need to add in a drop of milk.  Add a little at a time until you reach a good piping consistency. 
  5. If you are going to colour the icing, then add in the food colouring and beat until fully mixed.
  6. Pipe (or splodge onto the cupcakes) 


Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Roasted Tomato and Garlic Spaghetti

Roasted Tomato and Garlic Spaghetti

There are some days when the compulsion to spend a long time cooking is lacking (basically I can't be bothered), when time is limited (the baby needs a feed) and I need to throw something together quickly.  Pasta, is often the store cupboard saviour.  Pasta (and something) is the staple of most diets - not that that's a bad thing, especially when the '...and something' is as good as this.

In this recipe, the garlickly Olive Oil is the pasta's "sauce", so it is important to use a really good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  Don't however have the spaghetti swimming in oil.  That's not nice for anyone.

One Handful of Small Tomatoes (per person), cut in half
1-2 fat cloves of garlic (per person), thinly sliced
Few sprigs of fresh Thyme
Good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper
Parmesan / Grana Padano

  1. Preheat the oven to 190C/ 170C fan / Gas Mark 5
  2. In an ovenproof dish put the halved tomatoes, the sliced garlic, sprigs of thyme and a generous splosh of olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  
  3. Place in the oven for about 25-30 minutes.  Check every so often and give it a gentle stir, making sure the garlic doesn't burn and the tomatoes don't turn too much into mush.
  4. When the tomatoes are nearly done, cook the spaghetti in a pan of boiling salted water. 
  5. Take the tomatoes out of the oven, and if needed add a splosh more of olive oil and give it all a stir scraping up all the delicious caramelised bits at the bottom.  
  6. Drain the pasta when it is cooked (but still has some bite) and stir in the tomatoes and garlicky oil. 
  7. Grate over a generous amount of Parmesan (or Grana Padano) and a good grind of black pepper and serve.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Plum Crumble

Plum Crumble

I love fruit crumbles.  I really, really love crumbles.  If I could, I would have one every day. For me, they are not just something to eat for dessert.  I can eat them for breakfast, lunch, dinner or any time in between.  Warm or cold I am happy when I'm eating a crumble.  I'm rarely fussy when it comes to the filling of a crumble either; apple, plum, rhubarb, berries of various descriptions, on their own or in combination, it's all good.  

Out of preference I tend to have a tarter crumble.  I hardly ever add sugar to the fruit, the exception being rhubarb and maybe cooking apples depending on their sourness.  But this is all down to preference - if you prefer a sweeter crumble then add sugar.  Adding anything else to a fruit crumble seems a bit unnecessary, but, and although I'm not a fan of cinnamon, I do add a dash to a plum crumble.  Plum and cinnamon go spectacularly well together and it makes the crumble sing.

 Making your own crumble topping is ridiculously easy too.  All you need is flour, sugar and butter; all ingredients that I bet most people have in their cupboards and fridge.  And making it takes as much faff as opening a packet of (expensive) shop brought crumble topping.  

I haven't put how much fruit you will need - just work out roughly how many servings you want and find a dish that's suitable size and fill it full of fruit.  The plum crumble I made below, will probably serve 2-3 people and I used 6 plums.  If I were making an apple crumble I would probably use 1-2 apples per person depending on the apple's size.  

And as a final note, a crumble is a great way to use up a lot of fruit, or fruit that is going a bit ropey.  

Plums (roughly 3 per person), stoned and sliced.  
A scant 1/4 teaspoon per 6 plums of Ground Cinnamon (or more if you particularly like cinnamon)
A sprinkling of golden caster sugar (to taste)

For the Crumble Topping (enough to cover the amount of fruit above, but can easily be doubled up):
115g Plain Flour
55g Butter, cubed
40g Golden Caster Sugar

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200C / 180C fan / Gas Mark 6
  2. Halve, stone and then slice the plums and place them in a suitable dish.
  3. Sprinkle over the cinnamon (and if using, the sugar)
  4. In a bowl add all the crumble topping ingredients, and using your fingertips rub the butter with the flour and sugar until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.  Make sure there are no big lumps of butter lurking at the bottom.  
  5. Place the crumble topping over the plums and put it in the oven for about 30-45 minutes, or until the topping is a lovely golden colour. 

Awesome Chocolate Brownies

Awesome Chocolate Brownies

There are few foods in the world as decadent as a good chocolate brownie; rich, sticky and devilishly tempting. It is immensely useful as a 'what-ever-the-occasion' treat ; perfect with the afternoon cup(s) of tea or impressive as a sumptuous after dinner dessert.  Most importantly though, there doesn't even need to be an occasion to enjoy a brownie as good as this.

I urge anyone and everyone to try it.  I promise it will satisfy any chocolate craving in an instant, just don't skimp on the quality of the chocolate - try not to use anything under 70% cocoa, it just won't taste as good.  

There is however only one way to eat a chocolate brownie... Warm.  Buzz it in the microwave for a few seconds and you have a treat fit for the gods themselves.

225g Unsalted Butter, cubed
350g Good Quality Chocolate (70% Cocoa Solids), broken into pieces
4 Medium Eggs, separated
300g Light Brown Sugar
25g Cocoa Powder
200g Plain Flour
1 Teaspoon of Instant Coffee dissolved in a couple of tablespoons of water
A Pinch of Salt

  1. Preheat the oven to 190C / 170C for fan ovens / Gas Mark 5.
  2. Line a tin (approx 24cm square) - I use tin foil.
  3. Sift the flour, cocoa and salt into a bowl together.
  4. In a heatproof bowl over a pan of gently simmering water, melt the butter and the chocolate.  Try not to stir the mixture, just poke down any bits of unmelted chocolate or butter.  Don't rush the melting stage by turning up the heat - you don't want the chocolate to burn.
  5. In another bowl use an electric whisk to whisk the separated egg whites and sugar until thick, white and glossy. 
  6. Once the chocolate is melted take it off the heat and let it cool slightly, then add it to the egg whites.  Mix well together.  
  7. Add in half of the flour/cocoa/salt mixture and gently mix.
  8. Add in the rest of the flour/cocoa/salt mixture along with the egg yolks and coffee.  Mix gently together making sure everything is combined.  
  9. Pour into your lined tin and bake for 20-25 minutes. Your chocolate brownie should be firm but definitely not cooked all the way though.  Best served warm.