November 10, 2013

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We won't be blogging about everything we cook / eat this time round, as our heads might explode, but you can follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram for more frequent food updates....

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November 09, 2013

Giant chocolate cupcake with a cherry conserve filling and chocolate topping

For us, this time of year is our favourite....not only are the trees a plethora of autumnal colours and the sky awash with celebratory fireworks, but far more importantly, it's our birthdays!!! Chris celebrates his at the end of October and I get to do the same at the start of November.

With a four month old baby in tow I decided (possibly stupidly) to attempt to make Chris a birthday cake; anyone with a small baby knows this can be a tad tricky....not only was I worried that she may not nap so that I could get cracking but more that, in my sleep deprived state, I may just cock it up!!

So, with this in mind, I decided to go big (or go home!) and opted for giant chocolate cupcake with a cherry conserve filling, covered in chocolate buttercream and decorated with chocolate fingers, crunchie, diam and mars bar pieces! 

My mum had a silicone mould for the cupcake (separate top and bottom), which by all accounts is better than the metal version, as the separate parts allow you to remove the cakes when ready, rather than having to leave it in, with the chance if the top half burning.

At first I was unsure how much mixture to use as the instructions in mentioned ready made packets, so after much internet searching and some guide nice from a friend (thanks Laura!), I went with a basic 12oz mix*. Those of you who have been following the blog know that baking is not a massive part of our repertoire, so I thought I had better stick to a safer option.
I made the batter in the usual way and filled the mould, leaving room for it to rise. The base came with a lid that has a bump in it; this is meant to give you a hollow area to put your filling in. I did use it, but wouldn't again; it didn't really stay in, as the silicone is so soft, and I ended up cutting out a impression by hand.

I popped the two moulds in the oven at gas mark 4 (although that's 6 on our AWFUL oven) and took the top out after 35mins and base after 45mins....they of course weren't ready, and took another 45mins each! I suspect this is just our oven, so change times accordingly!

Once they were out (I was losing the will to live at this point) and cooled, I hollowed out some of the base and filled with cherry conserve (sorry, but I bought some) and slathered the whole thing in chocolate buttercream**. Before the butter creamed firmed up too much I went round the edge with chocolate fingers and tied it up with a ribbon to hold in place.
Next I trimmed a few burnt bits off the top (I got distracted by baby), placed on the base then covered again in buttercream. I then threw a load of Chris's favourite chocolates on top (Diam, Mars bar and Crunchie) et voila!!

Is it worth waiting for?
Considering the baby and my baby brain, I started at 8.30am and was finished by it wasn't a long long wait!

It tasted good....of course it did, it had a disgusting amount of chocolate on it....I could cover and old shoe in that much chocolate and it would taste delicious!
Personally I feel that cake itself was a little dry, but it was in the oven for a loooong time! The decoration also leaves a lot to be desired, but hey, it's chocolate, I'm busy and really who cares!!

From start to plate: 3 1/2 hours
Good for: Birthdays of course! 
* 10oz flour, 2oz cocoa powder (or 12oz flour if you don't want a chocolate cake), 12oz butter, 12oz caster sugar, 6 eggs and 2 tablespoons of vanilla extract
**100g dark chocolate (I always use Bourneville), 200g unsalted butter, 400g icing sugar, 2tsp vanilla extract


November 08, 2013

It's been a long time

We're back! It may have been a long time since we last posted, and we may not be the same as we once were, but one thing has not changed during the past 18 months: our love of good food!

During the past year and a half a lot has changed in our lives. We purchased our first house together, and a few months ago we had our first child; a beautiful baby daughter. Life has definitely changed, and with it our eating habits and choice of evening meals. Gone for now are the days of complex recipes and intricate dishes, and in their place we have sourced quick, fresh, effortless meals which we can throw together after a long and exciting day with the baby.

This blog will now showcase some of the most successful of these quick meals, coupled with a series of entries eventually on baby weaning and how our daughter starts to embrace real food for the first time. Its exciting times, and we hope you'll join us for the journey.

Chris & Lou.

March 03, 2012

red curry of duck and pineapple

scattered sporadically amongst a field of seasonal crops and foraged fodder, we also intend to continue to explore food to its international maximum. we have recently treated ourselves to a new cookery book; a manifesto of asian cooking so exquisite and profound that we broke our cardinal rule and spent more than our £15 spending limit. we were incredibly excited to try this recipe for red curry of duck and pineapple which had our mouths watering from the start.

the recipe is designed to utilise a whole ready prepared chinese roast duck. however there was just two of us dining, so i took the two duck legs we had and artificially recreated the combination of ingredients evident in chinese roast duck with the elements we had to hand. firstly i rubbed a liberal quantity of sea salt combined with sichuan pepper deep into the skin of the duck legs. i then arranged some crushed star anise, broken cinnamon sticks, light soy sauce, palm sugar and finally some rice vinegar around the duck legs and put them into a pre-heated oven at 120°c.

at this very low temperature the fat inherent within duck slowly renders out into the pan and helps to preserve the bird in a technique called confit of duck. the duck mellowed away slowly for two and a half hours; at regular intervals i basted the skin with the duck fat to ensure the meat didn't dry out. the smells in the chicken were incredible, and i would have happily eaten the resulting duck portions without bothering with the thai red paste if i had been less determined to try out the recipe preselected.

the paste was very easy to create, and then required just heating it up to release the full depth of the spices within. as the duck was already cooked all the recipe required was for the shredded meat and the pineapple chunks to be added to spice paste to warmth it through. my mouth is watering as i write this, with the vivid memory of the smells still bright in my mind.

is it worth waiting for?
as our initial impression of the book thought, this was truly a special recipe. the shredded duck peeled from the outer element of the leg was crisp and crunchy, whilst the flesh closer to the core was moist and delicate. the depth of flavour from the two stages of cooking was evident in every single mouthful; the deep dulcet tones of the red thai paste were contrasted by the sweet high notes of the juicy pineapple chunks. magical.

regards, chris.

from start to plate : 3 hours 45 minutes

February 26, 2012

orange cake with an orange butter cream filling

apologies if my prose is a little rusty, its been a while. like the seasons, our blog has lain dormant now for a while, but under the surface things are starting to stir. as we previously mentioned, the liberation from our previous labour of love has given us more time to explore new elements of cooking.... and that has included the dark art of baking.

i stand by my statement that baking cakes is a science, which requires absolute accuracy and timing, and is therefore not suited to all. however, in the last few weeks i have attempted three different sponge cake recipes, and i can confidently say that my reluctance to bake has been overcome in a big way. it all started with this recipe for an orange cake with an orange butter cream filling.

i specifically chose this recipe with our commitment to be more seasonally aware at the forefront of my mind. although not native to the uk, oranges are at their best during this time of year on the continent; spain, cyprus and turkey for example. although supermarkets enable us to eat oranges all year round, there is a significantly different flavour to those available from the above compared with those from further afield.

as well as being a virgin to baking, it was also the first time that i had used our kenwood chef with intent. under the watchful eye and tutelage of my fair lady, i was shown the basics of this wondrous machine. the only variation i made to the recipe was to follow a priceless tip from lou's friend who stats that; 

instead of the basic formula of two eggs, and four ounces of butter, sugar and flour. this tip is to measure the two eggs, in their shells, and then equally match this weight with the remaining three ingredients. that tip was passed on by a professional baker, so its a top tip.

unfortunately my naivety of baking then manifested itself in a fundamental error; as i baked the resulting cake in an oven at 180° instead of 160° - the recipe of course was referring to a conventional oven, as opposed to our fan oven. the resulting sponge was slightly too firm, despite lou's diplomatic reassurance that it wasn't. 

the orange butter cream however was a triumph. instead of a typical butter cream which has water added to bind the icing sugar, this recipe used freshly squeezed orange juice. the resulting cream was devilishly sweet and punchy. 

is it worth waiting for? 
the density of the sponge was deplorable, but the butter cream filling and the orange frosting dragged the resulting cake kicking and screaming into the realms of respectability. the inherent sweetness and tanginess of the oranges, found in all three elements of the cake, was at its best and lifted the cake above a plain sponge. i learnt a lot from this cake, and i won't make the same mistake twice. 

best, chris.

from start to plate : one hour (with time to cool)
seasonal ingredient : seville oranges         

February 18, 2012

when one door of happiness closes, another opens

free from the shackles of our year long social experiment, we have been granted more autonomy and time to pursue other culinary avenues. during the last year we were constantly searching for unique flavour combinations and recipes which would stand out and attract interest from our readers. it was from this concentration of research that we became more and more interested in forgotten ingredients. influenced by fashion, socio-economic consciousness and profit margins, large supermarket chains are determining more and more what ingredients are available to us.

one significant event occurred towards the final quarter of our last experiment which sent us off in a different tangent we knew would make for an interesting new challenge. that event came in the form of lou's birthday; where i booked us in at sat bains and rooms to undertake a day in their professional kitchen as part of their kitchen workshop experience. amongst many hugely talented chefs, including the big man himself, we spent some time foraging with nanna vestergaard. originally from denmark, nanna arrived at her interview armed with a bounty of unusual ingredients gleaned from the surrounding locality.

in a tale of almost legendary proportions.... to the people of nottingham anyway.... nanna then preceded to seduce sat's culinary taste buds with a recipe which soon found its way onto the kitchens menu, titled simply ng7 2sa after the restaurants postcode. during our foraging expedition with nanna she introduced us to jack by the hedge, ground elder and dead nettles. each of these ingredients had once formed important roles in the post-war kitchen, but the uses of each of them has been forgotten and sometimes lost from the modern larder.

nanna also introduced us to her foraging bible, food for free by richard mabey, which is packed full of forgotten ingredients. the majority of these ingredients are supported by a few suggestions on how they can be used in cooking. as a consequence of that day foraging, and reading food for free, we realised how many ingredients we were surrounded by. nestling in the undergrowth, perched upon the canopy of local trees and inconspicuously hiding in plain sight for all to see.... and pick for free.

our intention for the coming seasons is to explore the forgotten ingredients around us and to source unusual recipes which utilise their potential. coupled with the concept of foraging for ingredients, is the importance of seasonality. as produce found and harvested from the wild can only be sourced when it is in season. therefore we intend to be more seasonally aware, and to try to choose ingredients when they are at their prime. preferably, but not exclusively, ingredients which have been grown and / or reared in the british isles.

we intend that the results of this year to be less intensive, and therefore the entries on this blog will be less frequent. however we hope you'll enjoy the experience, and continue to contribute to its success. our new challenge is born.
when one door of happiness closes, another opens.

February 05, 2012

the end of an era

so that is that!...our 12 month social experiment to see whether we could manage not to cook and eat the same evening meal twice within a year has come to an end. to reflect on the last 365 days, and to gain some necessary closure, we have decided to write a little round up of the year....and also let you know what our future plans are!

ever since we started to get within touching distance of the years finishing line people have asked us, 'are you going to have all your favourites in the first few weeks?!'....well the answer is yes, and no. the selection of new recipes is now so second nature to us that it'd be impossible to stop doing it; instead we plan to have one or two of our classic, or new found, favourites each week but with new meals as the proportional majority.

by circumnavigating the globe with our cookbooks we have learnt a huge amount this year; we've discovered some new favourite food destinations, including vietnam and homemade chinese and japanese cooking. inspired by these, amongst others, we've been introduced to a plethora of new cooking methods. each with its own host of new exotic ingredients, once alien to our kitchen cupboards, but now considered staple 'must haves'; such as tamarind, chinese black vinegar, palm sugar and mirin to mention but a few. 

medically we've also learnt a lot during the past 12 months! through a careful series of tests, i have found out i'm not intolerant to shellfish, such as prawns and scallops, as i once believed i was (although it is still an ongoing test!). chris on the other hand has discovered he's not 'allergic' to mushrooms or nuts, he just used to be a fusspot! in fact through this year of trials and tribulations we have each pushed our own personal boundaries of what we 'like' and 'don't like', with us both discovering that ingredients/dishes we historically have avoided, we in fact enjoy. i for example has unearthed a love of soup, whilst chris can't imagine life without mushrooms.

finally, thanks has to go out to everyone who has contributed this experiment, and those that have offered their comments/feedback and even their own recipes and recommendations. as much as we've enjoyed our own selfish journey of discovery, to receive your messages of support made every recipe and every word we wrote even more enjoyable.

every journey has to eventually reach its destiny, and despite numerous requests for us to continue, we've decided to draw a line under this experiment. fear not however, we're not going anywhere we've got another concept we're going to pursue for the foreseeable future. it won't involve a similar volume of blog entries, but we believe you'll enjoy it all the same....we'll explain more shortly.


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