Monday, 29 October 2012

Spicy Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

Let me be honest. This post is purely and simply an excuse to blog my pumpkin, aka the best £1.50 I've spent in months. With my mum, a template from Florence Finds  and a lethally sharp knife, I spent Sunday afternoon giggling wildly and regressing twenty years. And I don't regret a single second of it. Look at that pumpkin! Look at the bat in the moon! The stars! The spooooookiness! 

The logical next step is to dig out that terrible 90s film of the Worst Witch (with Tim Curry and Diana Rigg) - which we used to watch every Halloween without fail - curl up in the candlelight and dye some baked beans green. Which my mum did at a particularly noteworthy Halloween party of our youth. Even when you know they're just baked beans, it's impossible to force yourself to eat them. Slime! Mucus! Mould! Gross.

Other themed foodstuffs from the same party, according to the list she dug out and brought along: two types of eyeballs (frozen grapes and pickled onions); fried monsters and dried out tongues (Monster Munch and Quavers); blood-stained fingers (hot dogs with ketchup) and shrivelled toes (mini sausages); ectoplasm jelly and compost cake tiffin. Ah, we made our own fun back in those days. And even though I'm now a grown-up of advanced years, I really want to do it all again - fancy dress, comedy canapes at all. At least, that's what my Pinterest seems to suggest. And Pinterest never lies.

But back to the present day, and my final trick - gouging out the flesh rather than cutting right through. Look at this boo! It still makes me snigger. Between the pumpkin, the seeds and the variety pack of chocolates, we're all sorted for Wednesday and any marauding kids who want to make their own memories on our road. As long as we don't eat all the Maltesers first, that is. Happy Halloween!

Spicy Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

- pumpkin seeds, stripped of the stringy pumpkin flesh
- pinch of sea salt
- olive oil
- big pinch of smoked paprika
- pinch of brown sugar

Simply toss all the ingredients together, spread out in a thin layer on a baking tray and toast in a 180C oven for half an hour, stirring once. 

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Cinnamon Swirl Ice Cream

Operation kitchen is a-go-go! Despite spending the weekend in beautiful, best beloved Oxford (insert sigh for the autumn leaves, the honey-coloured stone, and the roaring fire in the Kings Arms), we have been charging on and slapdashing through and progress has been made. New cupboards are up (almost)! Old ones have got new doors (mostly)! Backsplashes have been painted (sort of)! At least five of the tins and jars have been cleared off the table (don't mention the rest)!

So there's nothing new today, just an overdue write-up of the ice cream I promised you last time. Like so many ice creams around this house recently, it's another adaptation of our basic vanilla but truthfully? Brucie-stylee? This might be my favourite. I know, I'm easily swayed - and the fact that cinnamon tastes like autumn heaven is just a small part of it - but this was so perfect, so suitable for an apple pudding that I was blown away, far away from all my previous favourites. What do you want me to say? I'm fickle.

Just maple syrup, butter and cinnamon, melted together into a torrent of sweet-scented goo, swirled through creamy, light vanilla ice cream. I don't need to say anything more, do I? I just need to go back into the kitchen debris and find the ice cream scoop. I'm sure it's in there somewhere.

Cinnamon Swirl Ice Cream
As with the plum ripple and stracciatella, the basic vanilla ice cream comes from the Ben & Jerry's book. The cinnamon swirl comes from this website.

Vanilla Ice Cream
- 2 large eggs
- 3/4 cup of caster sugar
- 2 cups of double or whipping cream
- 1 cup of milk
- a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste

Cinnamon Swirl
- 3 tablespoons of maple syrup

- 2 tablespoons of butter (30g)
- 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon

Whisk the eggs in a large mixing bowl (or freestanding mixer) for about 2 minutes or until very light and fluffy. Keep whisking while you gradually add the sugar, then whisk the whole thing for another couple of minutes until totally blended. Pour in the cream, milk and vanilla, whisk again, then transfer to an ice cream maker and churn. This one really appreciates a long churning time - it's in the final few minutes that air is incorporated, making the final ice cream light and soft - so give it a good 25 minutes. 

While the ice cream is churning, heat the syrup, butter and cinnamon over a low heat until the butter is melted, the cinnamon smells amazing and the mixture is bubbling. Turn the heat off and let it cool down a bit.

Once the ice cream has finished in the machine, slop it into a big Tupperware and pour the cinnamon goo on top. Swirl it all around two or three times, then transfer to the freezer.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Toffee Apple Crumble


Holeymoley, we're actually doing it. After speculating idly for months about whether we should redo the kitchen - what, when, how, and what again - it's happening, right now. Getting a handyman round for a quote turned into "actually, I'm free next week", which turned into a Sunday evening spent emptying and breaking apart our cupboards and a Monday morning waiting in with biscuits and teabags. On Monday evening we came home and, as if by magic, our kitchen renovation had started. Without us really noticing, and definitely without any form of sensible planning. 


And it's happening so fast! All of a sudden, those depressing greige tiles have vamoosed. Those cabinets I whinged about, full of holes and far too small? Gone! The extra sockets we needed? Installed in the blink of an eye! Our dripping tap has been replaced with a shiny new one, our dismal halogen lights swapped for a pendant light (albeit one we had to order in a fiendish hurry, and which almost didn't turn up in time). Now the handyman has gone and we're left with newly replastered walls, piles and piles of dust, and food (in jars, boxes, tins and packets) covering every surface in the house. Turns out those cabinets I complained about really did hold quite a lot, if you take it all out at once.


But that kitchen is now history and last night after work, fuelled by meatballs, we spent two hours in Ikea buying the future. Incidentally, did you know that Ikea is just as busy at 10pm on a weeknight as it is on a Saturday afternoon? Me neither! Anyway, with that shopping experience safely under the belt and in our nightmares, we now have a huge pile of new cupboards, doors, hinges, deco panels, plinths, drawers, moulding and drawer dampeners waiting for us to build and erect them, not to mention a tin of blackboard paint ready to be slapped onto the backsplash. All in what has been, for both of us, the busiest and most stressful work week in the whole year, topped off with going out this evening, entertaining (!) tomorrow evening and going away for the weekend. Maybe we should have thought this one through a bit more carefully?

While the new kitchen waits impatiently in the wings, let's remember what was (as it turns out) the last dinner for friends to emerge from the old one. Namely a cosy evening on Saturday with pot roast beef in red wine, crispy parmentier potatoes and, most importantly of all, proper pudding. After mentioning toffee apples in the last post, nothing could quite get them out of my head - and in the middle of a tedious work meeting, a blinding ray of inspiration struck. Toffee apple crumble. I don't really need to say any more, do I?

Ok, ok, fine - I googled it, found a recipe, fiddled slightly (no figs, no pears, no spelt, just pure toffee and apple), and created what is possibly my favourite ever crumble. In other words, my favourite ever pudding. My only slight quibble was over the inclusion of orange juice, which I found a bit overpowering (although clearly not so overpowering that I didn't manage seconds). Plus, you know I'm a sucker for crumble, so I could have handled a higher crumble: fruit ratio. But the others didn't seem to object - although they may just have been being polite - and our huge quantites were not only finished, but licked clean. I'll be trying it again as soon as our kitchen is back up to speed (maybe omitting the orange altogether, or replacing with apple juice) but in the meantime, I have the warm glow of memory to keep me going, and the dazzling light of inspiration ahead. Cross your fingers that we'll get at least one cupboard built and installed before long! I don't want to have to wait too long for my next dose of crumble. 

Toffee Apple Crumble
Adapted from this Sophie Dahl recipe - I left out the dried fruit, used just apples instead of apples and pears, and swapped spelt flour for normal (just as I did before)
Serves 6 greedy people

Toffee apple
- 4 big cooking apples, peeled and cut into large chunks
- 6 eating apples, ditto
- 110g unsalted butter
- 125g dark brown soft sugar
- 1 orange, zest and juice (optional - I tried it again without any orange juice, or apple juice for that matter, and thought it was much better. Do try it with the orange if you fancy though, it'll still be delicious)

NB: all these quantities half as big again because I thought there wasn't enough crumble - use 100g of each if you want to follow the original recipe. I've tried it this way though and I much preferred it
- 150g of cold, unsalted butter
- 150g plain flour
- 150g oats
- 150g demerara

If you want to make this in advance, prepare the fruit and the crumble separately and keep them in the fridge, pouring the crumble over the fruit just before cooking. If you want to eat this as soon as humanly possible, preheat the oven to 180C now.

Put the butter, sugar and orange juice (if using) in a large saucepan and heat gently for 5 minutes, until the mixture is melted and bubbling. Add the fruit, stir it all around and cook for 10 minutes or so, until the fruit is starting to soften and the toffee sauce is looking delicious. Transfer to the dish you want to cook it in, making sure you get all the sauce, and set aside.

In a big bowl, rub the butter into the flour with fingertips (or you could nuke it in the food processor), then stir in the oats and demerara. Taste it just to make sure it's good. Yum.

Pour the crumble over the fruit, bake for 30 minutes and serve with ice cream, cream or custard. We went for cinnamon swirl ice cream, which will be making its way to this blog in the next few days.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Plum Ripple Ice Cream

Do you ever have those moments when you know with crystal clarity that you're doing exactly the right thing at exactly the right time? Walking home with the first bunch of daffodils on a cold, sunny day in early Spring; taking your first sip of Pimm's, on a lawn, in heels; crunching through Autumn leaves in corduroy and tweed as the air turns crisp and nippy for the first time. When you realize that, with consummate skill, you've reached the train platform precisely 10 seconds before the train arrives. Moments which are elusive but exquisitely satisfying, as if you've finally, finally worked out how this life thing works.

But the flipside of this feeling is the sudden, shattering realisation that your timing is totally off. Looking around you on a rainy day at a sea of sensible boots, when you're in summer sandals. Booking an outside table when you know in your heart and in your goose pimples that it's really not warm enough yet. Ordering a heavy sticky toffee pudding in the middle of summer. Although, given the type of summer we've had, that isn't always a such a problem. 

Today's recipe was a prime example of something delicious, but just not quite right. We had a punnet of plums to finish and because we love making ice creams, making a puree and rippling it through some vanilla seemed like the obvious choice. But the thing is that we made it two weeks ago, and it's taken this long for me to take an "after" photo - because we just haven't been eating it. At this time of year, I want my puddings hot and sticky and this delicate, fresh, fruity little ice cream just wasn't going to cut it.

Of course, dear reader, you're much cleverer than I am and you will already have spotted the solution. Plum ripple ice cream can work perfectly ALONGSIDE the hot, oozey puddings - as our scraped-out bowls of chocolate fondant with plum ripple will testify. The order of the universe is restored, ice cream is back on the menu and in our bellies. 

Besides, how else are we going to preserve all autumn's bounty for the coming months? It's practically Harvest Festival time. I may not be filling up a shoe box with tins (or, as my mum used to add, miniatures of booze - reasoning that old people would rather get whisky than spaghetti hoops) but this ice cream kick could be the way of the future. Better than a stale old loaf of bread shaped like a wheatsheaf, anyway. Or as my school served us, sliced white. Times were tough in the 90s, all right? 

Plum Ripple Ice Cream
This basic recipe for vanilla ice cream is the same as the one I used for Stracciatella, which comes from the Ben and Jerry ice cream book.

Vanilla Ice Cream

- 2 large eggs
- 3/4 cup of caster sugar
- 2 cups of double or whipping cream
- 1 cup of milk
- a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste

Plum Ripple

- six plums, stoned and roughly chopped
- 15g of caster or icing sugar (this was a guess, so feel free to add more or less depending on how sweet your plums are)
- squeeze of lemon juice

First, make the plum ripple by gently heating the plums, lemon juice and sugar in a small saucepan for about ten to fifteen minutes, or until the plums have turned to mush. Blend in a food processor until smooth, then leave the purée to cool down. We put ours in the fridge to get good and chilly.

Whisk the eggs in a large mixing bowl (or freestanding mixer) for about 2 minutes or until very light and fluffy. Keep whisking while you gradually add the sugar, then whisk the whole thing for another couple of minutes until totally blended. Pour in the cream, milk and vanilla, whisk again, then transfer to an ice cream maker and churn. This one really appreciates a long churning time - it's in the final few minutes that air is incorporated, making the final ice cream light and soft - so give it a good 25 minutes. 

Once the ice cream has finished churning, slop it into a big Tupperware and dollop spoonfuls of the plum purée on top. Swirl the fruit into the ice cream two or three times, then transfer to the freezer.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Roasted Butternut Squash, Prosciutto and Pecorino Salad

Sometimes it really is as easy as finding nice things and putting them together. On a plate, in an outfit, at a party, in your living room: something great + something great = something great. Or something doubly great. Or something great to the power great. Wow, my last Maths lesson was a really long time ago. Anyway, my point is that nothing bad will happen. Your flatmate from university will get on really well with your friend from school, even if they've never met before. An ebay mirror and a proper-shop coffee table will not shout out "we don't match! we don't match!". A statement necklace and a killer tweed jacket can add up to the perfect Autumn outfit. And putting roasted butternut, prosciutto and cheese together in a salad just cannot end badly. 

We've had people round twice in the last two days (and worse than people, FAMILY) but everything we cooked was an old favourite on this blog (and can be found on the new "Top 10" page). And between the tidying, the shopping, the cleaning, the cleaning up, the shopping again, the cooking in advance and the using up of leftovers, there hasn't been much time to try out anything new.

But a few nights ago, while a lamb and date tagine was bubbling in the oven and some chocolate fondants were chilling in the fridge, we quickly chucked together some tasty things from the fridge - and made one of the most delicious salads we've had in ages. Sure, it's nothing ground-breaking but you know what? I don't care. Every element was a favourite and they combined to make salad perfection. And much as I love trying something fancy or frightening, sometimes it's good to keep it simple. Now, if you'll excuse me, there are two leftover fondants in the fridge and a Sunday smorgasbord of Downton, Homeland and last night's Strictly. If you need me, I'll be on the sofa with my jimjams, a blanket, the fondant and a spoon. See what I mean? Each element is good, but together is even better.  

Roasted Butternut Squash, Prosciutto and Pecorino Salad
Loosely based on this recipe
Serves 2

- half a butternut squash, scrubbed but not peeled, cut into chunks (save the seeds if you can)
- half a teaspoon of coriander seeds, bashed up in a pestle and mortar
- a shake of dried chilli flakes
- salad leaves (I used a combo of baby spinach, watercress and rocket)
- a few slices of prosciutto
- olive oil, salt and pepper, balsamic vinegar
- a good sized chunk of pecorino
- optional, greedy but good - a ball of buffalo mozzarella

Preheat the oven to 180C. Toss the chunks of squash with the chilli, coriander, some salt and pepper and olive oil, and roast for 30 minutes or until tender inside and starting to catch on the outside. If you could be bothered to save the seeds, drizzle them in a little bit of oil and chuck in the oven on top of the chunks of squash for the last ten minutes.

Arrange the salad leaves on a couple of plates, and scatter over the mozzarella (if you're using) and squash. Drape the prosciutto slices, and drizzle the whole lot with a little bit of balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. Finally, use a vegetable peeler to shave off slices of pecorino over the whole lot. Enjoy!

Monday, 1 October 2012

Apple, Cinnamon and Raisin Braided Bread

I know that there's a picture of bread up there but, honestly, I can barely focus on it. You see, I visited the Diamonds exhibition at Buckingham Palace yesterday and my eyes are still dazzled. Among other side-effects: any gem smaller than my fist will now be considered puny, I'm lamenting the sad lack of opportunities to wear tiaras in everyday life, and I'm seriously trying to decide which would be more useful - a diamond-encrusted sword, or a diamond-encrusted ostrich feather fan? These are the important questions of our time, people. Dine at Mine is grappling with the big stuff.

If anyone is considering making the trip, though, I can wholeheartedly recommend it. The jewels sparkle their little hearts out, the photos of the Queen wearing said jewels are delightful, and although it was extremely busy, they rationed the number of visitors allowed in at any one time so you got proper face time with the gems. 


As well as the Diamonds, your ticket includes entry to all of the State Rooms (play pick-your-favourite-chandelier) as well as the gardens and oh-so-tasteful shop. Well, tasteful and extortionate, clearly, but I'll forgive them a lot amid such beautiful mint green bunting. Doesn't mean I'm going to pay thirteen quid for an embroidered guardsman Christmas decoration, though. There's patriotic and then there's just plain silly.

But let's return to the real world, where my ceilings aren't panelled in gold and my domestic staff don't wear Hogwarts-style capes (or, for that matter, exist). This bread is an adaptation of one I made in April and if I say so myself, it's better. Buttery, cinnamon-spiced apples and raisins in a tender, sweet crust - it's basically cake masquerading as breakfast. Or afternoon tea, pudding, or any other occasion when you want a little slice of autumn.

And although I can't promise that Her Maj breakfasts on anything similar, this was inspired by another Queen of my heart - her wonderfulness, Mary Berry, and the sweet celebration breads of last week's GBBO. Just like last time, it didn't seem to rise much, but once again that didn't seem to impair its deliciousness at all. Make it on a Saturday, leave in the fridge overnight and bake on Sunday morning for a breakfast fit for a Queen. If any inhabitants of Buckingham Palace are interested in trading bread for diamonds, I might be prepared to swap.  

Apple, Cinnamon and Raisin Braided Bread
Adapted from this recipe

- 6 tablespoons of warm water
- 1 teaspoon of caster sugar
- 1.5 teaspoons of instant yeast 
- 25g plain flour

- 75g yoghurt or sour cream (I used yoghurt)
- 50g unsalted butter, soft
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 45g caster sugar
- half a teaspoon of salt
- a teaspoon of vanilla extract or half a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste
- 265g of either plain flour (which I used) or strong bread flour

Cream cheese filling
- 65g cream cheese
- 2 tablespoons of caster sugar
- 25g of sour cream (I used yoghurt again)
- 1 teaspoon of lemon juice
- 15g of plain flour

Apple and raisin filling
- 4 eating apples
- 25g brown sugar
- squeeze of lemon juice
- knob of butter
- teaspoon of cinnamon
- 50g raisins

- 1 egg, beaten
- either demerara sugar or pearl sugar

Start off by making the sponge - mixing everything together well, then leave for 15 minutes, loosely covered in clingfilm. 

In a big electric mixer with the paddle attachment, mix together the sponge, sour cream/yoghurt, butter, egg, sugar, salt and vanilla. Chuck in the flour and mix until it looks like a rough, shaggy ball. Then swap to the dough hook and knead it for 5-6 minutes or until smooth and springy. Cover with cling film and put the bowl in a warm place to rise, in theory until doubled and puffy (I just left it for a couple of hours then got impatient and carried on). 

While it's rising, mix together the cream cheese, caster sugar, sour cream/yoghurt, lemon juice and flour until smooth and lump-free. 

Peel and core the apples and cut into small chunks. Melt a knob of butter in a small saucepan and add the brown sugar, apples, raisins, cinnamon and lemon juice. Cook for 10-15 minutes or until the apple is soft and the raisins are plump. Set aside to cool.

When the dough has risen, squash it down in the bowl with your hands then tip out onto a clean, floured surface. Roll it out into a large rectangle, about the size of a baking sheet - it'll be quite stretchy and annoying so just do your best. At this stage, shimmy the dough onto a big piece of baking parchment. 

Using the side of your hand, press two lines on the dough dividing it into three lengthways - not cutting through, just marking it out so you have three equal long rectangles. Do the same thing with your hand to mark off about 5cm in from each short end. All this marking with the side of your hand should leave you with an inner rectangle surrounded by a frame (you can see it in the photo above, covered in cream cheese). Cut off the four corner squares with a sharp knife and roll them around any kind of filling for a cook's treat. 

Spread the cream cheese mixture over the inner rectangle, then dollop the fruit on top of it. You can also scatter some extra demerara on the fruit here, if you fancy (I did). Cut the long side rectangles into strips as in the photo above, so that the inner rectangle looks fringed on either side. The strips should be about an inch thick and as symmetrical as possible (so that there are the same number on each side). 

Fold the short end rectangles up and over the fruit. Then start at one end and fold the fringey strips up and over the filling diagonally, one at a time and alternating sides, so that it looks like a braid. This is so much easier to see in the photo than to explain in words. Keep going all the way down until you've "braided" each strip. Then move the braid, on its parchment, onto a baking tray, cover it loosely with cling film and leave to rise for an hour or so. (NB: this is a good opportunity to put it in the fridge or freezer if you want to bake it another time. If so, let it come to room temperature and do the second rise before glazing and baking as normal).

Preheat the oven to 190C. Brush the braid with the beaten egg, sprinkle with pearl sugar and bake for 20-25 minutes, until burnished and bronzed. 
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