Friday, 27 November 2009

Pork Hock and Haricot Stew

The borscht I made a few weeks ago needed a bit of pork hock in it. I wasn't going to bother, but it was surprisingly cheap for such a massive hunk of meat. After putting a little of it in the soup, the rest went in the freezer for another time.

Every so often I have to have a freezer purge to get eat up some of the stuff in there, as well as saving some cash. So this week I defrosted the pork hock, and set about finding a recipe to use it in. I came across this Pork Hock and Butterbean Stew on Dinner Diary, and decided to give it a go.

I replaced the butterbeans for haricots, as I had some in the cupboard, and the whole point of freezer left over day is to not spend money! I also used white wine instead of sherry. The rest of the dish was very easy to make, and although it took a few hours, most of that was spent watching "Eggheads" while the stew bubbled away. The hardest part was getting the meat off the bone as it was too hot to get a proper grip on it.

The stew was delicious, and the paprika did give it a Spanish feel. A bit of chorizo in there would have been excellent, but it was still tasty. I served it with some brown rice and some crusty bread for mopping up the juices.

Pork Hock and Haricot Stew

There was enough of this for some of it to go back in the freezer as a left over portion, and if I hadn't used some in the borscht it would have made two portions to freeze. I was really impressed with the pork hock, which was incredibly tender by the end of the cooking. There were some sinews and fatty bits left, but I managed to get most of these out when shredding the meat. Definitely a store cupboard triumph!

PS - I did the guest round up at Nora The Kitchen 'Splorer this week, check it out!

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Orange and Rosemary Shortbread

It's taken me ages to write this post, just because there has been absolutely zero daylight in Edinburgh to take pictures with. It's so depressing that there is still a month left where it will just get darker. The curtains are shut and the lights are on by about 3pm most days. So, prepare yourself for some very dodgy photos in the coming months, and I apologise for my shaky-cam poor lighting. Brace yourselves for winter.


I've been thinking about the Lemon Thyme biscuits I made earlier in the year a lot lately. I wanted to make them again, but they didn't seem suitable given the cold and dark. Christmas doesn't seem like a lemon time of year. Oranges and clementines are more festive feeling to me.

Orange and Rosemary Shortbread

I swapped out the lemon zest for orange, and finely chopped a couple of sprigs of rosemary. I rolled the dough thicker than I would normally. It seems more appropriate to have a massive hunk of shortbread rather than a daintily thin slice. For some of the larger biscuits, I made a hole in the top so it could be used as a tree decoration.

Orange and Rosemary Shortbread Tree Decorations

The shortbread was crumbly and buttery, and the orange flavour shone through. The rosemary wasn't very strong, so added a pleasant herby aftertaste rather than a massive kick. I decorated the biscuits with an egg white wash and a sprinkle of granulated sugar, to create a frosty effect. Without the sugar topping, it was a quite grown up, but the extra sweetness made the appeal more universal, so perhaps more suitable for feeding to less refined palates! They are incredibly moreish though, so watch out...

Orange Shortbread with Rosemary
Makes lots

225g unsalted butter, softened
150g granulated sugar
zest of 1 orange
1 tsp salt
2 tsps finely chopped rosemary
1 egg, separated (save the white for the glaze)
275g plain flour
2 tbsps orange juice

Granulated sugar

1) Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
2) Add in the orange zest, salt and rosemary, combine thoroughly.
3) Separate the egg, saving the white for glazing. Add the yolk into the biscuit dough mix.
4) Add the flour and orange juice. Once a dough starts forming, knead gently on a floured surface.
5) If the dough is sticky at this point, add more flour, a sprinkle at a time.Wrap the dough in clingfilm, and chill for at least an hour.
6) Preheat the oven to 180C, and line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.Roll the dough out to 5mm thick, and cut circles out (I used a 2 inch diameter cutter). Keep gathering the scraps and re-rolling until you have about 40 biscuits.
7) Brush the biscuits with egg white, and then sprinkle with granulated sugar.
8) Bake for 15-18 minutes, until the biscuits are just turning golden brown at the edges.Cool on the tray for 1 minute, then move to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Saturday, 14 November 2009


Last Christmas, I got a madeleine tin. I was excited to have such a one-purpose piece of kitchenalia, but there was a problem. The problem was, I had never really "got" madeleines.

Everyone else seems to be a madeleine fan, judging by how often I see them perched by tills in cafes, and they've cropped up at numerous markets I've been to lately. It's not that I didn't like them, but they always seemed a bit bland and lacking. I did take some comfort that Proust had to dip his in tea to get excited about them (and he wasn't really even getting excited about the madeleine itself, it was the memories it brought back. To me, madeleines remind me of going to my friend's house after school and having to feed her cats as she didn't like the smell of tuna.)

I felt bad about the pan though. It lived in a dresser with some wrapping paper and spare toiletries, before being upgraded to the middle shelf of the baking cupboard, albeit at the back. So, after making the Korova cookies the other day, I flipped forward a few pages in "Paris Sweets" and made some madeleines.

The recipe itself is fairly simple, and I upped the vanilla and lemon to squeeze a bit more flavour in to the madeleines. After resting the batter in the fridge, I carefully spooned 12 dollops of batter in to the shell holes on the tray, and put it in the oven for 12 minutes.

Fresh Madeleines

I was surprised at how high the madeleines rose (the left over batter, which I baked 2 days later, rose even higher. It was almost obscene). The rise was just enough to mirror the scalloping on the other side, so the madeleines were nicely symmetrical.

So now for the tasting. Had I just been eating bad madeleines all these years?

Well, yes and no. Madeleines straight out of the oven were a revelation. The inside was still soft, cakey, and a tad bland, but now it was paired with a crispy crust that was utterly moreish. The ones that managed to survive until the next day were not so great, with the crispy crust now replaced by a slightly chewier bit of bland cakeyness.

As the batter can last for several days in the fridge, I think from now on I'll be baking small batches to eat immediately. The recipe also has a couple of suggestions for different flavours, the Earl Gray variation certainly sounds intriguing!

Wednesday, 11 November 2009


After my recent trip to Russia, I have been craving borscht. I've made it once before a few years ago (and stained practically everything I owned red in the process) but it wasn't as good as the stuff I had in Russia.

After reading multiple recipes, and even tweeting about it, I picked the Valentine Warner recipe from "What to Eat Now". It was in two stages, firstly making a meat broth from vegetables, stewing beef and ham hock, and then adding in roast beetroots, parsnips and apples.

Borscht with Sour Cream

The soup should take about 3 hours to make, as the broth and the roasted beetroots both took 2 hours of slow cooking. However, I ended up taking more like 5 hours, as about 2.5 hours in, there was a power cut. Not only did all the lights in the houses go out, the street lights and traffic lights also went out. It was really strange to look out in to the street and see complete black. A couple of stairwells had emergency lighting, but apart from that the only lights I could see were flickering candles or torches. As both the hob and the oven are electric, I just had to abandon the borscht until the power came back on an hour or so later.

I'm not sure if it was this enforced hiatus or the recipe that meant the soup was a little lacking. The initial stages of frying off onions and garlic with dill smelt fantastic, as did the roasted beetroot and adding the meat. I was less convinced about the apples and parsnip and I would skip this if I was making the soup again. Krysia Boo suggested on Twitter to add the juice from re-hydrating dried mushrooms, which I didn't get the chance to this time but will definitely bear in mind in future. I also think next time I would grate the beetroot instead of cubing it, as I didn't like the thin broth with massive chunks in. I prefer my borscht more texturally homogeneous.

Not Quite Up To Russian Standard

I won't bother posting the recipe, as it needs a lot of work before I'm happy with it. I think next time I'll make the meat stock as a stock rather than a broth, and add the dill and onions later on. However, the soup did tick a lot of boxes, and I enjoyed it for my lunch with a good piece of bread and loads of sour cream. It didn't have an overly earthy flavour, and the sweetness of the beetroot was highlighted. A definite starting point for further adventures in borscht.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Italian Bread

After taking T's brother and his girlfriend to a couple of restaurants over the long weekend, we decided that Saturday night should be a bit quieter (and cheaper!). We decided on a games night, with pizzas, beers, and perhaps even a bit of X-Factor thrown in.

I wanted to make something for people to nibble on, that was a bit more interesting than a bowl of crisps or nuts. Riffling through Leith's, I found a recipe for "Italian Bread". I'd also seen this post on Wild Yeast, which made me really want focaccia.

Italian Bread served with olive oil

The recipe itself is pretty quick to pull together, although the kneading time of 8 minutes is a bit of a killer if you are lacking in upper body strength. I mixed in a handful of chopped sun-dried tomatoes and some fresh basil, but rosemary, cheese or olives would also be tasty.

My two food fears are baking with yeast and deep-frying. Luckily this recipe didn't involve deep frying, but it did involve yeast. The last few times I've used yeast, I've seemed unable to get any rise out of it. However, on this occasion, an hour in a previously warmed oven seemed to do the trick.

Italian Bread flavoured with Sundried Tomatoes and Basil

I was initially a bit disappointed, as the bread was quite hard and crusty. It was still tasty, but it wasn't as soft as I was expecting. Left overnight, it softened up a bit, but still was a bit too tough and crusty for my liking.

Slightly too crusty.

I think if I was to make this again, I'd give the Wild Yeast recipe a go instead. It's fairly similar to the Leith's one, but the photos look less crusty so the small tweaks obviously make a difference.

Italian Bread (Leiths Cookery Bible)
Makes 1 large loaf

30g fresh yeast (I used a 7g sachet of quick yeast)
225ml warm water
450g strong flour
2 tsp salt
4 tbsp olive oil
coarse salt to sprinkle over the top

1) Dissolve the yeast in the warm water.
2) Put the flour and salt in a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Mix in 2tbsp of the oil and the yeast mixture.
3) Once a dough in formed, knead well for 8 minutes. (After kneading, I added a handful of sundried tomatoes and some chopped basil.)
4) Roll the dough out until it is about 2cm thick. Place on to a greased baking sheet and cover with greased clingfilm.
5) Leave the dough to rise in a warm place until it is soft and fluffy looking. Preheat the oven to 200C
6) Make some indentations in the dough with your finger, and drizzle over the last 2tbsp of oil. Sprinkle over coarse salt, or you could use woody herbs like rosemary.
7) Bake for 20 minutes, then remove from the tray and bake directly on the oven rack for a further 10 minutes.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Korova Cookies

This is a bit of a landmark here - my 100th post! Although really two of them don't count as the introduction and links should be on pages rather than posts... but anyway. I have filled this blogger text box out 100 times. Who knew I was that dedicated!?

T's brother and his girlfriend are visiting us this weekend. I have a bit of a reputation amongst T's family for being a baker, so I knew I had to make something to welcome them, but at the same time I didn't want to do anything too crazy that they would feel obliged to eat. I settled on Dorie Greenspan's Korova cookies (sometimes also known as "world peace" cookies - the idea being that if these were handed out there would be no more need for war). How could anyone resist buttery chocolate biscuits studded with chunks of dark chocolate?

Korova Cookies

I made the dough for these the night before, and left it to rest overnight. It was hard to resist baking some of them straight away for a midnight snack. In between cleaning the flat, I sliced off 12 rounds and baked them. Within minutes, the flat smelt like melting chocolate. Obviously I had to check they were ok, and had eaten 2 while they were still warm. By the time T had picked up his brother from the station, I'd eaten 7 of the of the 12 I'd baked. In the introduction, Dorie warns you not to make them when you are alone, and she is right. They are dangerously addictive.

Crumbly and crispy

So I baked another batch, and it came out of the oven just as T and his brother came through the door. They are crispy and just chewy when cool, but when they are warm, the crumbly biscuit and the gooey chocolate are sublime. The hint of salt and the dark chocolate also make them a little more grown up than your average cookie.

If you like the sound of these, Deb of Smitten Kitchen has already typed the recipe up rather well.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Cappuccino Cupcakes

I decided that making the millionaire shortbread from "Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache" was not a good test of the book, as it is about the only recipe in there that doesn't use some kind of vegetable in place of butter. The anthropomorphic descriptions in the book are not particularly useful, so it took me a while to decide on the cappuccino cupcakes with sweet potato.

Cappuccino Cupcakes (with Sweet Potato)

After creaming eggs and sugar, finely grated sweet potato is mixed in. The other main difference between this recipe and a standard cake is that the flour is replaced by rice flour and ground almonds, making this gluten free as well as fat free (I know there are fats in nuts, eggs and sugar, but there isn't the massive hunk of butter that starts off most cake recipes).

Before baking, the batter tasted more like carrot cake than coffee cake. Even though I'd added more coffee essence than the recipe suggested, the flavour was quite weak. After baking, I tried one of the cakes without any icing. Although the coffee flavour was still weak, the cake was moist and fluffy, and the sweet potato had melted away. I was quite impressed that such a healthy set of ingredients could produce such a good example of cake.

The suggested icing was a modified buttercream - 1 part butter, 1 part mascarpone and 4 parts icing sugar. Again I put in a bit more coffee essence than recommended to ensure that the icing made up for the lack of coffee flavour in the cake. While I like the creamier texture that mascarpone adds, I find that it produces quite a loose icing, which doesn't pipe as well as plain buttercream. I tried to practice icing roses on the top of these cakes, but as the mixture wasn't stiff enough they collapsed a little. I think my technique is improving though.

Cappuccino Cupcake with "Rose" Icing Pattern

I am generally not a fan of "fun-free" food, but these were quite impressive. I don't think I'd make them regularly for myself, but as I know a few people who are watching their weight or gluten intolerant, it's good to have a recipe to suit them too.

Cappuccino Cupcakes (Harry Eastwood - Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache)
Makes 12

2 eggs
160g caster sugar
200g peeled and grated sweet potato
100g rice flour
100g ground almonds
2tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3tbsp coffee essence

50g unsalted butter
200g icing sugar
50g mascarpone
2tsp coffee essence

1) Preheat the oven to 180C, and line the muffin tray with paper cases.
2) Whisk the eggs and sugar until pale and fluffy. Whisk in the sweet potato, followed by the rice flour, grated almonds, baking powder and salt. Finally stir through the coffee essence.
3) Fill the cases and bake for 20 minutes. The cakes may look a bit like muffins at this point but don't worry.
4) While the cakes cool, whisk the butter for the icing until it is smooth. Then add 100g of the icing sugar and beat in to the butter to form a thick paste. Whisk for longer than you think you need as it is vital the butter and sugar are properly combined.
5) Add the mascarpone, coffee essence and remaining 100g of icing sugar. Mix with a spoon until you get a smooth icing (don't use the electric whisk here, it'll destroy the texture of the mascarpone.) Keep the icing in the fridge until you are ready to use it.
6) Once the cakes are cool, top them with the icing.

I'm keeping my cakes in the fridge, as the mascarpone won't survive at room temperature very long. However, if you plan to eat these within a day or so, they should be fine to store in a normal cake box.