Saturday, 31 March 2012

Salted Caramel Ice Cream

Ha! Yesterday, four people came to this blog by googling "morbid obesity". I'm not even joking (this is the post it takes them to, in case you were wondering. Luckily, it's not a picture of me). I'd say that makes it a good time to post another ice cream recipe, wouldn't you?

I know, I know. Ever since we finally got the chance to play with our wedding presents (in a home! of! our! own! No, the novelty hasn't worn off yet), it's been all ice cream, all the time. There's been Ben and Jerry's Oreo Mint, a Pear Sorbet and a Chocolate Sorbet so sublime, so surprisingly and delightfully wonderful, that I feel panicky just thinking about all the people who sneer at the concept without tasting the deliciousness. Honestly, everyone, just try it. Try it then come back to me, with your mind officially blown, and admit that you were wrong. I'll be over here making another batch.

But not today. Today, we're talking about the faffiest, scariest, most high-pressure recipe yet to grace this blog. It'll wreck your kitchen, your composure, and possibly the skin on your hands and arms. Not to mention your waistline. But it'll be worth it. Today, we're talking about Salted Caramel Ice Cream.

A couple of weeks ago, I recounted in tedious detail how I'd taken the plunge and made my first ever caramel (for the Salted Caramel Chocolate Cake). I threatened then that I was already plotting new reasons to repeat the process and, as if by magic, this recipe by David Lebovitz swum up through the ether and suggested itself. After my first caramel experiment resulted in no loss of limb or dignity, I knew the time had come to tackle not just caramel, not just caramel praline, but caramel, caramel praline AND custard all at once. Cooking doesn't get tougher than this.

The rest, as they say, was history. Well, incredibly complicated and difficult but satisfying and ultimately delicious history. That's not quite as catchy as the original saying, is it? It got a bit hairy at times - when adding the cream and milk, it really did seize into a solid lump and there was lots of stirring frantically over a gentle heat, willing it to melt - but it did, and I managed the custard without making scrambled eggs, and the finished result is incredible. I mean, chocolate-sorbet-rivalling incredible. Wait, that won't sound so amazing to those of you who are (wrongly) iffy about the chocolate sorbet concept, will it? Ok, I'll put it this way. They are both amazing. Rich, decadent, incredible. Sorry, morbidly obese Google searchers. I can't promise this ice cream kick will end any time soon.

Salted Caramel Ice Cream
From David Lebovitz's blog

This recipe is incredibly long and involved so, really, you're best off to visit David Lebovitz's blog and see it all (with step-by-step photos!) there. And good luck! Try not to burn yourself. Or to eat it all at once.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Chicken and Cauliflower Balti

The last few recipes may have given the impression that it's all cakes and biscuits around here but I promise, that's very far from the truth. The thing is, our weekday evenings go as follows. Get home from work - probably late, definitely starving. Make something quick and familiar (veg chilli, smoked salmon pasta, aubergine and lentil stew, meatballs). Fruit and yoghurt for pudding. Slump on the sofa, eat a few squares of chocolate. Treat ourselves to cheese and biscuits if we're feeling particularly greedy. In food terms there's nothing blog-worthy, nothing ground-breaking, nothing to bother the internet's pretty little head with.

But every now and then we do manage to force ourselves out of our dinner rut and try out something new on a weekday evening. And today's recipe is particularly big news. You see, however much I might pat myself on the back for having conquered my food dislikes of pears, olives, blue cheese, lamb (all of which I love now - and yes, all of which I really should have just eaten before and stopped being such a baby) there's been a huge elephant in the room. A social-event-avoiding, country-for-holiday-preventing, ashamed-to-call-myself-an-adult-admitting, elephant. I have never liked curry.

Not just one particular curry, but any Indian food. I was a horribly fussy eater as a child and rejected Indian food outright, and I just never managed to get over it. To the extent that I used to get worried if people suggested going for a curry because I knew I wouldn't have a clue what to order, and I knew it would be really obvious. And before you say it (everyone says it), no, NOT a korma! I tried that tactic a couple of times as a teenager and they made me heave, greasy and fatty and far too creamy and ugh, just disgusting. I'm sure that I didn't try the best examples - we didn't really go in for fine dining back then - but they traumatised me and I just never got over it. So I avoided Indian food wherever possible, never made it at home, never went out for a curry. And always felt embarrassed to be such a baby.

So this year I was determined to grow up and make myself like it. And when a friend brought out balti and a tikka when we visited her house for dinner, I prepared myself to smile through it - and found myself asking for seconds. It was delicious! In the years since I last tried curry, I've become so much more adventurous (let's not forget, back when I was a nipper I'd never tried tagines, Mexican food, Thai - barely even Chinese) and it turns out that I really liked the curries now. What an IDIOT! And what a relief!

The next step was to make a curry at home and this Waitrose recipe looked just perfect. Easy, healthy, nothing to frighten the horses in the ingredients, simple to control the level of heat. And? Well, I'm embarrassed. It was brilliant. If anything, it could have been spicier. We've already started bookmarking all sorts of other curries to try. So I have to say it once again. What a relief! And what an IDIOT!

Chicken and Cauliflower Balti
From the Waitrose magazine (and available here)
- 1 onion, cut into chunks
- 2 peeled cloves of garlic
- a piece of root ginger about 4cm long, peeled and cut into chunks
- 2 tablespoons of hot Madras curry powder
- a teaspoon of cumin (it was meant to be seeds but we only had ground)
- 700ml chicken stock
- a handful of cold roasted chicken (the original recipe uses raw chicken)
- three or four parsnips, peeled and cubed (our substitution for a potato)
- a cauliflower, cut into florets
- a bag of spinach
- coriander leaves to serve, if you don't think it tastes like the devil (which I do)
Whiz up the onion, garlic, ginger and curry powder in the food processor until it's a paste. Then fry in a large pan with a teeny bit of oil, stirring constantly, for about five minutes. Don't use your cake-decorating spatula for this or it'll stink of spices for weeks and weeks.
Stir in the cumin and stock, bring to the boil, then chuck in the parsnip and cook for 15 minutes. Add the cauliflower and cook for another 10, until the vegetables are all cooked through.
Stir in the cooked chicken meat and spinach, to warm and wilt them respectively, then serve with rice, naan, chapattis, yoghurt, whatever you want.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Rhubarb Meringue Tarts


Last time, when we were talking biscuits,  I showed our beautiful Mother's Day tea table all laden up with cake stands, dainty sandwiches, spring flowers and vintage tea sets. If I say so myself, it looked amazing - like Cath Kidston exploded onto our table in a shower of twee florals and clotted cream. Nor was the pleasure all aesthetic - there was a ridiculous amount of greedy eating going on for a made up meal in the middle of the afternoon. In the sweet treat section alone, along with the biscuits (and some amazing cakes baked by my sister), I chose to try something I've been wanting to make for ages. Specifically, a mini version of rhubarb meringue pie from Nigella's Feast. Doesn't that sound lovely? What could be more perfect for a Spring time tea?

And yet....well, to be completely honest, they were an awful lot of faff for an underwhelming end result. After making the pastry, and resting the pastry, and blind baking the pastry, and cooling the pastry, and cooking the rhubarb, and filling the cases, and making the eggy sugary goo, and covering the rhubarb in the cases, and baking it all again, and making a meringue, and baking it all for a final time, oh my goodness how many times have I pulled this tray in and out of the oven...they were fine. Just fine.

The pastry was crisp, the filling was sweet, the meringue was delicate. But if I'm going through all that palaver (and god knows I cut out as much palaver as I could), I want my socks to be blown off by the result. My socks stayed on. Three days later, my socks were still on, and there were still some tarts left uneaten. 

So my final judgement would be - don't bother. You know what would have been nicer? Using the rhubarb with whipped cream to sandwich together little meringues (maybe even little orange-flavoured meringues). Or to fill little cakes, or a huge victoria sponge, with whipped cream and maybe a few raspberries. 

But all this hoo-ha? Pff, not worth it. They won't be taking up valuable space on my tea table again. Not when there are coconut-brownie bars, cucumber sandwiches, cornbread cheese and chilli jelly sandwiches (made with this cornbread), smoked salmon sandwiches, all sorts of biscuits and freshly made scones with clotted cream and jam. Not to mention thousands of cake recipes bookmarked in my "need to try" folder for the next time we want a refined, delicate excuse to stuff our faces in the middle of the afternoon.

Rhubarb Meringue Pies
From Nigella's How to Eat

- 140g plain flour
- 70g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
- juice of half an orange

- 800g rhubarb (untrimmed weight)
- juice of half an orange
- 2 egg yolks
- 150g caster sugar
- 2 tablespoons of plain flour
- 30g melted butter

- 2 egg whites
- 120g caster sugar
- quarter teaspoonful of cream of tartar 

Start off with the pastry. Blitz the cold butter and flour together in a food processor until it looks like breadcrumbs, then gradually pour the orange juice down the funnel until it comes together in a ball. Wrap in clingfilm and chuck in the fridge for at least 20 mins.

Trim the ends off the rhubarb and cut the stems into 1cm slices, then cook in a big saucepan with the orange juice for about 5-10 minutes or until cooked and pulpy. Set in a sieve over a bowl, collecting the beautiful coral juice.

Preheat the oven to 200C and get out whatever you're going to bake the pie in - a 21cm quiche tin, or mini muffin tin like mine. Get out pastry, roll to about half a centimetre thick and line the tin (s). Stab the bottoms with a fork, and put in baking beans if your tin is big enough (mine wasn't). Bake blind for about 15-20 minutes or until cooked and golden. Leave it in the tin but let it cool. If the pastry has all puffed up (which it will have done if you couldn't use baking beans), squish it back down with a teaspoon to make room for the fillings.

Separate the eggs, putting the whites in a big bowl for the meringue and the yolks in a smaller one. In another bowl (yep, you'll need to put the dishwasher on soon), melt 30g butter in the microwave, then add the flour and 150g caster sugar. Mix well, then add the egg yolks and enough of the juice from the rhubarb to make a smooth, runny paste. 

By now, the pastry should have cooled down (but make sure the oven is still on). Add a dollop of rhubarb to each pastry case, then cover each dollop with the sugary, eggy, buttery goo. Bake in the oven until set, about 20-30 minutes.

While they're cooking, beat the egg whites well (with an electric whisk unless you're a superhero), until they form soft peaks. Add half of the sugar, beat until glossy, then gradually add the rest of the sugar and the cream of tartar. Swirl the meringue over the rhubarby pastry cases, trying to cover every single bit of the base, then bake for about 15 minutes or until golden.   

Monday, 19 March 2012

Cut Out Biscuits

Did you see what I did there? Left you with a teaser of what was to come, but totally gave the ending away  by showing you the end result? I'm just like Masterchef. And while I mention it, let me say how glad I am that Shelina won - Shelina with her upbeat attitude, gorgeous hair and skin, mango obsession, and ability to actually get the task completed without crying (ANDREW) or running out of time (TOM). Ahem. We get quite involved in Masterchef in the Dine at Mine household.

But yes, last time I hinted that the next post would involve cut-out biscuits, and I gave a sneaky peek at them in action on top of the cake. Between the delicate ombre blues of my slightly-too-runny icing (that's what you get for making it up as you go along), and the oh-so-unflattering depiction of the birthday boy in biscuit form, I think these worked out pretty well as cake-toppers. But although I only needed a teeny amount to decorate the cake, it would have made no sense to halve a recipe which contains only one egg. Even after spelling out the full birthday message and making a few spares as cook's treat, I still had over half of the biscuit dough left over. And with a whole chocolate salted caramel cake to get through, I knew the two of us couldn't manage any extra biscuits any time soon.

So I froze it, and pulled it out this weekend as part of a Grand Mother's Day Tea (you'll be hearing more about this too). This time round, I wanted to try something a bit more exciting so I opened my big drawer of baking paraphernalia, pulled out a whole range of cutters - and had far more fun than any grown-up should really admit. 

Exhibit a) leaf shaped biscuits sandwiched together with nutella. In my humble opinion, the winner of the three biscuit options - chunky, quick to make (no need to faff with icing) and delicious. Exhibit b) butterfly window biscuits sandwiched with jam, dusted with vanilla icing sugar. Slightly more tricky (cutting the mini butterfly out of the bigger one was almost impossible - I ruined twice as many as I managed), and the jam was slightly too sweet with a sweet biscuit. Exhibit c) assorted stars and mini leaves (when I was running out of patience to reroll and reroll), sprayed gold with oh-so-amazing edible spray paint. These actually looked surprisingly good - like a glittery egg wash - and would be amazing at Christmas. But, you know, not the star of the show. Oooh, what a pun.

As for the biscuits themselves? I thought they were fine but underwhelming on the cake but they actually came out a lot better second time around, when I rolled the dough quite a bit thicker. I should also point out that the dough emerged from the freezer totally unscathed,  which is a big plus. I don't think they were the best biscuits I've ever made - for one thing, those custard creams were incredible - but a good basic biscuit for when you want to play with cutters and spray paint and arrange them prettily on a tea table. Ahem. Exhibit d) below.


Cut Out Biscuits
From Nigella's Feast

- 90g soft unsalted butter
- 100g caster sugar
- 1 egg
- half a teaspoon of vanilla extract
- 200g plain flour
- half a teaspoon of baking powder
- half a teaspoon of fine salt

Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy, then beat in the egg and vanilla. Chuck in the flour, baking powder and salt and mix until combined. Form it into a ball and wrap in clingfilm, then leave in the fridge for at least an hour (or freezer for..well, I don't know. Indefinitely? Mine was in there a week and it was perfect).

Preheat the oven to 180C and line a few baking trays with parchment. Then roll the dough out on a well-floured surface until about half a centimetre thick. Go crazy with cutters and bake for 8-12 minutes (but keep an eye on them if your cutters were teeny, they might need less). You're aiming for golden in colour. 

Cool on a wire rack. Once they're cool, you can ice them (icing sugar, a few drops of water to make into a paste, colouring if you like), sandwich with anything you can think of (nutella? jam? lemon curd? buttercream?), or just spray gold. With edible spray paint, obv.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Salted Caramel Chocolate Cake

I've done quite a few birthday cakes around these here parts (Chocolate Guinness, Chocolate Fudge, Coconut Cream, Vanilla with Double Cream and Raspberries) but this was a big one. For Mr Dine at Mine, Greedy Gusto himself, it had to be something special and it had to be good. In previous years he's always demanded Nigella's Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake but this year he gave me full licence to surprise him. And it was tough. I ummed and ahhed, researched and daydreamed, thought and thought - and ended up making his favourite cake. But this year, there were three important changes. I topped it with a plain chocolate ganache rather than the chocolate fudge icing. I added little sweet biscuits, spelling out a suitable message (and suitably insulting portrait). And I filled it with something I absolutely adore, but have always been too scared to make. Caramel.

Salted caramel, to be specific. We are bandwagon-jumping, trend-following salted caramel fans in this house and I knew that it would be an amazing addition to any chocolate cake. I've always been terrified of all those hot sugar shenanigans - everything seems to burn or seize or explode or "argh, that was my hand" - but I did a bit of googling around, found a few recipes, and decided just to go for it. I had a dream that was birthday cake, and I had to try! The Birthday Boy deserved it.

The cake itself - fine. I'm still getting used to this oven and it wasn't my best ever, but it was still a very respectable chocolate sponge. The sugar biscuits? They'll get a post of their own but spoiler alert - they were fine. The chocolate ganache wasn't as silky smooth as it could have been (I accidentally used the sour cream instead of double, which might have had something to do with it) but it was still fine. But the caramel? Oh my god. The salted caramel. Where do I start? Heart in my mouth, 999 at the ready, I started melting and swirling and much to my surprise and delight, it worked! Nothing went grainy, or exploded; I cooked it until dark golden brown and no more; whisked and whisked to combine the butter and cream until, yes, it turned into caramel! Salted butter and an extra grind or two from the salt-mill gave it the extra depth of flavour I wanted and, giddy with relief and sugar, I trilled with glee when I poured the golden, gooey mass into a jug and set it in the fridge to cool. I'd done it! I'd turned sugar into caramel - and survived! Seriously, I've never been prouder.

When it came time to assemble the cake, the caramel was pretty solid - as in, almost the texture of a Werther's Original - but I walloped it onto the cake, plonked the sponge, ganache and biscuits on top and merrily went off to lunch, basking in my Salted Caramel success. We returned to find the cake sitting in a buttery amber puddle. All the caramel had oozed, oozed, oozed out of the middle and pooled around the foothills of the cake. Uh oh.

We cut and served it and..oh my gosh, the caramel was amazing. But there was no denying that it had made a break for the exits, and was halfway out of the door. So what had happened? Was the texture wrong, or the concept flawed? Would any caramel be able to withstand the weight of the cake on top, or should caramel be reserved for drizzling on top of stuff? I don't know.

So in conclusion - taste good, appearance bad, overall mark - hand waggling in a horizontal position. But at least I conquered the caramel fear! We're already plotting new reasons to make it. And at least Mr Dine at Mine had a birthday cake, even if it wasn't as perfect as he deserved. There's always next year...

Salted Caramel
Adapted from here 
- 100ml water
- 450g caster sugar
- 2 tablespoons of golden syrup
- 115g salted butter
- 125ml double cream and 2 tablespoons of creme fraiche (or I used sour cream left over from the chocolate cake)
- a few grinds of salt
Put the water, sugar and golden syrup in a large saucepan and cook over a gentle heat until it's melted. DO NOT STIR! That does something terrible, apparently. It's all a bit complicated for me but you can swirl the pan every now and then, just keep all utensils out of that pan.
Once it's melted, turn up the heat a bit and cook until the caramel is dark golden-brown - try not to be too much of a scaredycat here. Then turn off the heat and carefully whisk in the butter and cream, being prepared for it to  bubble up quite high and alarm you. Whisk until smooth then leave to cool. It'll last a couple of days in the fridge if you want to make in advance.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Pear Sorbet

My day job feels Important. With a capital letter. The things I do at work matter; I feel the responsibility to get it right, and the consequences if I get it wrong. In terms of Doing Good in the world, I can plausibly say to myself that I'm on the side of the angels - and that's wonderful, it's a privilege. But every now and then, I desperately wish for the luxury of something ...not really mattering. Sometimes, I want the biggest decision I have to make to be what kind of sandwich I want for lunch. Actually, that is really quite a big decision.

That's why I like this blog, and cooking in general. I can put time and energy into creating something and if it goes a bit wrong, then it doesn't really matter. When your pear sorbet is slightly too lemony, that's not really a disaster - you've still got delicious pear sorbet. And next time you can just add less lemon. See? It all works out.

I'm sorry that today's recipe is another for the freezer. Before you complain, I know it's chilly outside, I know there are other sweet treats than those which use our new ice cream maker. But we're obsessed! It is our alpha and omega, our permanent pudding preference and our solution to chronic over-purchasing. We've already made the chocolate sorbet twice and given that the pear and chocolate combo is one of my favourites (ahem, see herehere and here), we couldn't resist trying out this Jamie Oliver recipe. The amount of lemon he suggested was slightly overpowering - poor pears, they didn't stand a chance - but the sorbet was still bright, zingy and delicately refreshing. Ah, ice cream maker. What can I say? It's love.

Pear Sorbet
Adapted from Jamie Oliver here

- 750g soft pears, peeled, quartered and cored (note - I got myself in a muddle about whether they should be weighed before or after preparation and wasted minutes of my life I'll never get back. The amounts I used were prepared, ie: peel/quarter/core them, then weigh to 750g)
- 150g caster sugar
- 150ml water
- a lemon
- 40ml vodka (or he suggests grappa, but we didn't have any)

Put the sugar and water in a large saucepan, bring to the boil then turn down the heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Add the pears and simmer for another 5 minutes (or a couple longer if yours aren't really ripe, like ours).

Take off the heat and leave it to sit for 5 minutes, then grate in the zest of about half the lemon and add the juice of half. He recommends slightly more but ours came out quite lemony, so go cautiously and taste. 

Now you have a quick bit and a tedious bit. Quick bit - put in the food processor and whiz to a puree, hurrah! Tedious bit - then push this puree through a sieve into a big bowl or jug. I desperately wanted to skip the sieving bit but it truly is worth it - I tasted some of the fruit mush left in the sieve at the end and it was really grainy, which is not what you want in a sorbet.

Slosh in the vodka then put the whole lot in the fridge to cool down. Once it's cold, add to your ice cream maker and churn for about 20 minutes or until frozen! He actually says to do it without the ice cream maker, just mushing it up with a fork every half hour, but we are lazy and obsessed so obviously went for that.
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