Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream

November 25, 2009

Lovesickness has no remedy. You spend your whole life looking for someone, even in the places where they are most unlikely to be. When you finally get to be in the same room as them, you can’t even glance in their direction because they’ll be talking to someone prettier, cleverer and better connected than you. Sometimes baking chocolate cupcakes in close proximity will make him come rushing to complement you on domestic goddessness. If your prince isn’t forthcoming, baking enhances your mood almost enough to make you not care.

 

Makes 10 cupcakes

Preheat the oven to 180 c

Cream together 100g butter and 1/2 cup caster sugar until light and creamy. This should take about 4 minutes with an electric mixer. Beat 2 medium sized eggs in a jug and pour into to the sugar and butter. Add a generous splash of vanilla essence. Sieve 1/2 cup self-raising flour and 1/2 cup cocoa powder into the bowl, and gently fold in. If the mixture feels too sticky, add 1 tbsp milk and mix with the electric mixer again.

Line a cupcake tray with cases, and put a heaped tbsp of cake into each.

Bake for 15-20 minutes. Take out of the oven and leave for an hour to cool.

Meanwhile, cream together 100g icing sugar, 50g cocoa powder, 100g softened butter and  1 tsp water.

When the cupcakes have cooled, slice in half and spread with chocolate buttercream, then gently press the halves together.

Tip 50g Hundreds and Thousands (coloured sprinkles) onto a small plate. Mix another 100g icing sugar and 50g cocoa powder together (you can just add this to whatever is left of the buttercream) with a tsp of water. The icing needs to be easy to spread but not so runny that it drizzles off.

One by one, spread each cupcake with icing, and dunk into the Hundreds and Thousands.


Bean, Mint and Beetroot Salad

November 21, 2009

I spend a lot of time thinking about food. The process by which these ideas come together and end up on a plate is sort of magical. I think its similar in some ways to composing an essay. You have a question: what do I want to eat tonight? I usually have vague ideas about flavors, and some sort of sense as to what role the food needs to perform. Yesterday I craved beetroot. Having subsided on mince pies and buttery noodles for a week I needed something virtuous and satisfying. I often have more ideas than I can fit onto one plate; yesterday I wanted roasted Chantenay Carrots and prawns too.  Somehow, by the time I’d reached the biscuit isle of Sainsbury’s, the building blocks for decent plate of food were there in my basket. I had actually been looking for quinoa, thinking its magical superfood properties would make up for a week of crap, but they had no idea what I was talking about in Sainsbury’s and only had it in ready made salads in Marks & Spencer. A mixture of kidney, soya and black eyed beans seemed like a decent substitute in terms of nutty flavor and feel good properties.

I actually have to shop very differently here than I would at home, because I’m starting from a non existent pantry. I’ve a fair selection of oils and condiments now, but still haven’t got any balsamic vinegar. It’s frustrating to realise that you actually needed to buy a lemon or some garlic or some dried oregano.  The upside is that I am not tempted to bung lots of other stuff in when I know what I want is a simple salad. This is the perfect thing to make when you’re in the mood for some gentle chopping.

Serves 2

Peel and dice 3 carrots. Roughly chop 4 bulbs cooked beetroot. Fineley slice the bulbs of 4 spring onions. Put them all in a big bowl and add 220g mixed beans. Tear up a handful of mint leaves and add themtoo.

In a smaller bowl, mix toegther 2 tbsp rice vinegar, 2 tbsp grainy mustard, 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp runny honey. This gives a tart dressing, which I love, but feel free to alter the proportions if you prefer something milder.

Pour the dressing over the salad and mix together gently with two spoons. This looks much nicer if the beans and beetroot haven’t been squashed.


Spicy Lamb and Butternut Stew

November 16, 2009

I can’t quite believe I’m into week six. At the end of freshers’ week, I really couldn’t imagine getting through five days, and now I’m over the hump. In the middle of the week when the work is piling up and I’m shaking from too much Diet Coke it still feels tough. The experience of being able to go home on occasional (okay, most) weekends makes up for it though. All summer I appreciated home, but there is something so special about getting on a bus that is whisking you back to familiarity. Something about suddenly being in Chelsea again, opening the squeaky gate to the apartment block and ringing the buzzer even though you have your keys because its so nice to know there are people waiting for you.

I had said that I would give it a year, and if I still couldn’t find something about being here which made me happy, I would go to catering college instead. I would love the experience and to gain the technical knowledge. But I think in a way it would be horrible to be a chef, because what I love about cooking is the fact that I’m creating something special, and making people I care about happy. I also like to be self indulgent about it, taking my time peeling squash. I think the efficiency of a professional kitchen takes the soul out of food and cooking. Why do we cook from scratch when it is more efficient and sometimes cheaper to buy processed food?  From an economics view, it is an interesting question, perhaps just a particularly obvious example of why efficiency isn’t the be all and end all.

I love warm, spicy stews for precisely their inability to be standardised. I had thought this would take at least 2 hours, and the meat was perfectly tender in 1 hour 20 minutes. Thus these timings are a guide, but you can tell when the lamb is ready; it will simply melt in your mouth.  I consulted almost all the cookbooks I own, but was particularly inspired by Elise from Simply Recipes Spicy Lamb Stew with Butternut Squash. I was also inspired by my christmas cake, which we made earlier in the day on Sunday.

This recipe serves three people perfectly.

Dice one red onion, and finely slice three juicy gloves of garlic.

Heat a glug of olive oil in a wide, heavy based pan. Add 300g of diced lamb, and brown over a medium heat until you can’t see any pink. Remove to a plate using a slotted spoon, and add the onion and garlic to the pan, frying gently for 7 minutes.

Mix together 1 ½ tsp each of ground cinnamon, paprika, cumin and dried rosemary. Add 1 tsp red chilli powder. Add the herbs and 1 tbsp tomato puree to the pan and stir vigorously for 4 minutes.

Add 1 pint hot vegetable stock and stir vigorously, then add a 227g tin of chopped tomatoes and return the lamb to the pan. Bring to the boil, then turn down to a simmer and cook covered for 55 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel, de-seed and dice 500g butternut squash. Add to the pan and bring the whole thing back to the boil, then simmer uncovered for half an hour, or until the lamb is melt-in-your mouth tender and the squash is creamy.


Garlicky prawn and mushroom noodles

November 13, 2009

It was the first chance I’d had all week to really cook. Having eaten a lot of crap, I wanted something that tasted fresh and good for me as well as delicious. I was shopping for one, and it came to my attention that prawns are one of the few things supermarkets sell in individual portion sizes. They also fit the tasty/healthy requirement well.

I like to use king prawns with the shells on, because they make eating a bit more interesting.  And I’m very wary of frozen prawns, for good reasons.  When I first started to cook, I had even less common sense than I do now. We lived in a really cosmopolitan area of London, which was kind of poor and dangerous but had loads of independent shops stocking what seemed like exotic ingredients to me.  The only other option for produce was Iceland, so I tended to go to the exotic stores. One night my family were all in late, and I was very pleased with myself for planning and shopping for a delicious evening meal. This was 7 years ago so I don’t remember the recipe but I did something involving pasta with a sticky garlic, pea and prawn sauce. I’d managed to find big frozen king prawns with their tails on, which would have been hard to find in Iceland. I’d cooked them from frozen due to time constraints.

I served it up and it looked impressive. I had just sat down when my sister asked my mum, “What’s the black bit?” The veins hadn’t been obvious when the prawns were frozen, so I hadn’t removed them, and my mum said we’d get sick if we ate any more and the whole supper was ruined. I think my sister ended up with toast for supper. But partly because I was a stroppy teenager whose feelings had been hurt and more importantly because prawns, peas and garlic are too good a combination to resist, I finished my bowl anyway. I was no worse for wear for doing so, but its no fun cooking for people and it not making them happy, so its not a mistake I’ll make again. Fortunately Sainsbury’s seem happy to de-vein them for you. And I’m hoping the comforting, tasty supper I cooked tonight makes up for it. V said he liked it, and he’s a Chinese visiting student, so that must mean something,

Serves 2

 

Put the kettle on. Finely slice three fat cloves of garlic, and roughly chop 250g closed cup mushrooms. Heat a tbsp of olive oil in a heavy based pan, and add the garlic when it is really sizzling. Fry the garlic slices for 5 minutes, stirring regularly, until crunchy and golden, then remove with a slotted spoon and add the mushrooms and 1 tbsp Japanese rice vinegar to the pan. Turn down the heat and cook gently for ten minutes until softened, adding 1 cup frozen peas and 1 tbsp water halfway through.

 

While the mushrooms are cooking, cover 125g rice noodles with boiling water. When they become pliable, drain and refresh with cold water.

 

When the vegetables are almost ready, stir in 1 tbsp runny honey and 1 tbsp fish sauce and add 200g cooked prawns. Cook until the prawns are heated through, then add the noodles to the pan and mix well with a spaghetti fork. Serve with the crunchy garlic slices on top.


Christmas Recipe Review

November 11, 2009

I know it’s only the 11th November. But my workload has been intense this week and I haven’t had time to cook much. I have actually been experimenting with things on crumpets, and am inclined to suggest that there is  nothing better in the whole world in terms of ease and comfort than a toasted English crumpet, with a slab of mature cheddar melted on the top and a sprinkle of black pepper (Good variations include drizzling mustard or marmite on top).  So when I am on a short break from analysing supermarkets  (at least the work is food related), I think I deserve to start planning Christmas dinner.

Last year I cooked goose with a parmesan and pine nut stuffing, which was delicious. The problem with geese is no leftovers, which is a problem for me, and lots of smoke, which is a problem for my guests. I will once again be cooking in a flat, and really don’t want a repeat performance of last year, when the whole apartment filled up with smoke and grandma had to be taken out on the ( 1 x 3 m) balcony. Thus I’m thinking I’ll wait till I have a country house with better ventilation before I try it again.

I don’t dislike turkey. In fact, my strongest childhood Christmas memory is waking up to that sweet, gamey smell, as my mum always used to cook it the night before. My little sister isn’t keen however, and I sort of think it is a shame to have something so normal when there are glamorous options out there.

In The Observer Food Monthly, Nigel Slater has some beautifully photographed suggestions. His simple quail with spices and honey looks wonderful. I do like the idea of serving individual birds, although you still have the no-leftovers problem. This issue has some good vegetarian suggestions including a Christmassy salad of chicory, pomegranates and blue cheese, which I promise to try out soon. I love that just throwing a handful of pomegranate seeds on a plate makes you feel Christmassy.

I’m also considering duck, though I haven’t seen the perfect recipe yet.  It’s luxurious and tasty without the fat content of a goose. I’ve no idea what to do in terms of stuffing though, and am not sure about how well  duck will go with my usual sage, pork and onion. Christmas isn’t complete without that stuffing. Nor will I be able to go without the red cabbage in Nigella Christmas, which is cooked in Pomegranate juice. This method gives cabbage which is a perfect mixture of sharp and sweet. If anyone out there is reading this, I’d love to know if you’ve started planning your Christmas feast yet, and what you’re planning on serving.


Snowflakes and Schnapps

November 10, 2009

I woke up late and had figs and maple syrup for breakfast.  Subsequently spent the morning perusing the christmas food magazines, and flicking through a wonderful new book called Snowflakes and Schnapps by Jane Lawson. Lawson’s book is indulgent, a glossy hard cover with beautifully styled whole page photographs. It is the only recipe book I have read this year that genuinely contains new flavors and cooking methods. Part of what makes the tome so unique is the inspiration; the recipes draw on northern, central and eastern european flavors. It contains a brilliant mix of everyday dishes and special occasion fare. Though one of the book’s four chapters is dedicated to Christmas, all of the recipes be perfect to lift your mood on a cold day in February. Unlike other winter cookbooks which are an ode to the holiday season, Lawson’s book captures the delights of a place that is magically icy all year round. This is the sort of food one imagines they eat in Narnia.


Lamb with Pesto

November 5, 2009

I woke up at 7.30 and worked on an essay until 5.30, neglecting to go to lectures, get some fresh air or even wash. The sole practical task I did all day was take my frozen lamb steak out of the freezer, so that when I finally hit send, showered, and did some housework I could rustle up something delicious. It’s all very well for cook books to talk about eating high quality ingredients, sourced from a French market and eaten leisurely, al fresco. But I think cooking is important when it is transformative; when putting three nice things on a plate and a vintage table cloth on your desk suddenly makes life that little bit nicer.

This barely consitutes a recipe, it’s just a nice thing to eat. Serves 1.

Slice an aubergine lengthways and grill the slices. Brush a lamb steak with olive oil, and season. Fry each side for 3 minutes in a really hot pan. Put them on a plate and drizzle a tablespoon of pesto over them. I will never again be accused of making life complicated.


Courgette and Pear Coleslaw

November 3, 2009

I’ve actually been thinking about coleslaw for most of the day. The slaw below really came together in my mind in my financial reporting class. Sainsbury’s was devoid of both ginger and carrots, which I had originally intended to include. I couldn’t resist the conference pears though, which are delicious on their own at the moment and marvelous in here. I always choose really firm, almost under-ripe pears for eating; I think this is particularly important in coleslaw to keep the texture crunchy rather than soggy.

Disclaimer: I was really, really hungry when I got in so made this quite quickly; measurements are very approximate ( if anyone likes the sound of it I promise I’ll make it again and measure everything out!)

Serves 4 as a side dish, or 2 as a light lunch

Finely slice half a Chinese cabbage. Dice 1 red onion. Julienne 1 courgette (zucchini), 1 firm conference pear and 100g cooked beetroot. Mix together and throw in 1/2 cup raisins.

Mix together 2 tbsp Japanese Rice Vinegar, 2 tbsp wholegrain mustard, 1 tbsp runny honey and 3 tbsp mayonnaise.

Add to the vegetables and stir to coat everything. Really delicious with cold chicken.


Poussin with squash and parmasan breadcrumbs

November 2, 2009

I’ll come clean straight away and admit that I didn’t even attempt to cook this using the two electric hobs on my corridor. I happily went home for a couple of days, and was able to make the most of my delightfully familiar London kitchen, with a gas hob and a three shelved oven!

Halloween passed without making much of an impact on me. I spent Saturday night watching Cabaret (the original Liza Minelli version), which for the most part wasn’t particularly scary. I thought I would make up for it by cooking squash on Sunday, as I’d been musing on game and squash for a while. I also wanted to try a new cooking method, which I can’t believe I was previously ignorant of. I’d always peeled and cubed butternut squash, but saw it cooked skin on in thick, sort of crescent shape slices the other day, which is not only quicker to prepare but, it turns out, really tasty.

I do like to have stuffing with poultry, mainly because I get a great deal of pleasure out of whizzing up breadcrumbs. I often make a parmesan and raisin stuffing to serve with chicken or pork, and was inspired by the tradition of serving breadcrumbs with game to adapt that into the toasted breadcrumbs below. These quantities give more than you strictly need for four people, but we finished them because the combination of pine nuts, parmesan and crispy breadcrumbs is incredibly moorish! I think that this savory granola would be delicious with juicy pancetta cubes and spinach as a starter.

Serves 4

Preheat the oven to 200C/190 Fan/gas 5. Half and deseed 1 medium butternut squash, and cut into 3/4 inch slices.  Peel 5 cloves of garlic; finely slice three and put the other two aside. Tip the squash and sliced garlic into to a roasting tray, adding a glug of olive oil and 1 tsp ground ginger, and toss it all together with salt and pepper.

Rub 25g of butter over 2 poussin, and season well all over. Divide a lemon into quarters. Use kitchen scissors to cut 4 rashers streaky bacon in half. Peel and halve 5 shallots. Put a lemon quarter, garlic clove and 2 dried sage leaves into the cavity of each bird, and lay the bacon over the top. Arrange the birds with the shallots and 1/2 cup water in a roasting tray. Put the poussin on the top shelf of the oven with the squash underneath. Roast the birds for 45-50 minutes, until the juices run clear and the leg comes easily away from the breast.

Roughly chop a handful of dried dates and 3 slices stale white bread and pulse until you have fine breadcrumbs. Add a handful of pine nuts and a handful  of grated parmesan.

Heat 1 tsp sunflower oil in a heavy frying pan. Add the breadcrumbs and stir to coat. Fry for 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until they are brown and crispy.

When the birds are cooked, take them out but leave the butternut squash. Remove to a plate, cover with tin foil and let rest for 10 minutes. Put the roasting tray on the hob over a medium heat; when bubbling, deglaze with 100ml red wine, scraping furiously to get all the tasty sticky bits into your gravy. Add 150ml vegetable stock and a pinch of gravy powder and continue stirring up the sediment. Take off the heat and skim off any fat. Strain through a sieve into a saucepan and bring to the boil, then turn down to simmer while you carve the poussin into 4 breast and 4 leg portions. Serve the squash and poussin with the breadcrumbs sprinkled over the top. This thin gravy is best suited to being put in a jug and served on the table.


Musings on Coleslaw

November 2, 2009

Saturday was parents day, which meant a buffet lunch with a good selection of cold meats and really fantasic coleslaw. Coleslaw is one of those things which can be  truly scrumptous or simply terrible, and I was pleasantly surprised to find the former on offer. I’ve read a few good recipes for it but never actually had a go of it myself; I particularly like the look of Nigella’s New Orleans Coleslaw but am inclined to add some red apple. Tommorow is a long day and i’ll miss hall, which is a perfect excuse to experiement. Watch this space.

Update at 21:36. Should have been doing financial reporting homework but instead have been food blog surfing. Found this really fresh, zingy looking Asian Coleslaw on a fantastic site called Simply Recipes. Will definitely take the peanut butter tip on board.


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