Posts Tagged ‘strawberry’

Friends are always asking me if I’m going to enter competitions like The Great British Bake Off or Masterchef and although I appreciate their somewhat misguided faith in my cooking abilities it immediately focuses my mind on all the glaring gaps in my repertoire, particularly essential techniques like pastry making that I am yet to attempt, without which I would get laughed straight out of a professional kitchen.

It’s funny how people assume that when you start writing about food, you know what you are talking about. Anyone who has seen reality tv can tell that just because your creative output is displayed on a screen doesn’t necessarily mean you have any talent. However it’s that automatic faith that makes one feel as though one should be doing something deserving. So instead of continuing to guiltily brush off the kind suggestions of friends and family and walk around feeling like a culinary imposter, I am setting myself a challenge. And not being one to set myself a nice sensible target,  it has turned into three challenges.

Of course as soon as I write them down I will be forced to stick to my guns… which is partly the reason for involving witnesses… and partly to garner the moral support I think.

Challenge number 1

  • The first challenge is technical. Each month I will learn a different technical skill that I’ve been too scared or too lazy to learn before now (think puff pastry – eek).

Challenge number 2

  • The second challenge is to produce extraordinary flavours.  I’ll try to create at least one dish with a suitably unusual flavouring or combination of flavours  that I haven’t seen anyone else produce before. This one is about learning which flavours work without following somebody else’s instructions.

Challenge number 3

  • My third and final challenge is reinventing a classic. This is probably the easiest of the three and probably overlaps with extraordinary flavours quite a lot but this is slightly different as it’s about picking one classic dish and creating my own recipes that remain faithful to the original idea but think outside the box a bit.

I think that should keep me out of trouble for a while. I havent got around to creating a proper plan for what to make each month yet or deciding when my self-inflicted boot camp will come to an end but in the meantime I got so enthusiastic about the idea that I went and created two dishes that fit snugly into categories 2 and 3 to get me started, and to give you some idea of where I’m going with this.

Extraordinary Flavours Challenge – Strawberry Rooibos Tea Cake

I guess I cheated a little bit as Whittard’s had already come up with the idea of pairing the Rooibos and Strawberry but I’d been thinking about a fruit and tea flavoured cake when I saw this tea and this option gets around the problem of finding fruit to bake with in winter. Even  although strawberries are normally a summer ingredient the tea infusion turns them into something more autumnal and cosy. It sounds a little obvious now that I’m writing it down but nibbling a slice alongside a cup of hot tea brings out the flavour in both the tea and the cake and works almost like a good wine with the right cheese. Perfect bedfellows. 

  • 225g plain flour
  • 225g softened butter
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 tbsp strawberry rooibos tea (made by stewing 4 tsp of tea leaves in about a cup of water for as long as possible and then cooling – the more concentrated the better)
  • 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup of icing sugar (depending on how much and how runny you like your icing)

Preheat the oven  170 degrees and butter and line a loaf tin. Cream the butter with an electric beater, add the sugar and continue to beat until pale and fluffy. slowly beat in the eggs one at a time. Sift the flour and fold into the butter mixture. Add 2 tbsp of the concentrated tea and mix until just combined. Pour into the loaf tin and bake for an hour or until golden and an inserted skewer comes out clean. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool.  When the loaf is cool put the remaining 2 tbsp of tea into a bowl and add the icing sugar until you obtain the required consistency. Drizzle over the cake.

Reinventing a Classic Challenge – Winter Squash Lasagne

Most people have their own specific recipe for lasagne but it always uses the classic combination of beef and tomatoes. There’s nothing wrong with a classic lasagne and you might be thinking, if it aint broke… but I’m choosing it as the first subject of my reinvention challenge because other than vegetarian versions its not something everyone attempts to play around with very often. The star of this version is winter squash. It uses Butternut squash and Courgette as the main ingredients – yes I know Courgette isn’t strictly a squash but it belongs to the same squash/marrow family in my mind and it is gentle enough that it doesn’t overdo the number of loud ingredients. I also used turkey instead of beef as it plays a supporting role instead of taking over the show so to speak.

  • 300g turkey mince
  •  2 small courgettes, grated
  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • few sprigs of sage leaves
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 20g flour
  • 30g butter
  • 500ml milk
  • handful grated mature white cheddar
  • dried lasagne sheets
  • sprinkle of parmesan for the top

Fry the onion in a little oil until soft, then add the turkey mince and continue to fry until it starts to brown. Add the chopped tomatoes and chicken stock and simmer until the liquid has reduced, about 20-3o min. Meanwhile either roast or gently fry the cubed butternut until soft.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. To make the white sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan and stir in the flour. Cook over a medium heat for a few minutes and then whisk in the milk a little at a time. Keep stirring until the sauce starts to thicken and then add the grated cheese.

Starting with mince at the bottom, create layers of mince, grated courgette, lasagne, white sauce and butternut to fill a lasagne dish. It doesn’t really matter what order you create the layers in or how many you have of each but make sure the lasagne sheets have white sauce or meat on them otherwise they will be too dry. I like a layer of courgette on the top sprinkled with parmesan because it looks pretty and goes a little crispy in the heat of the oven. Once assembled place in the oven for 30-40 min until the top is starting to brown and the lasagne sheets are soft when tested with a knife.

So that marks the start of my self-inflicted cooking school. For November, I’m going to attempt choux pastry, come up with another lasagne recipe or two and think up some new flavour ideas which will hopefully merit a cursory glance.

Should you feel the urge to go one step further and join me for one or all of the challenges, I would welcome the company and love to see what ideas you have so I’ll keep you posted on the next subject. If you choose to remain a spectator, I still welcome the company and hope  you draw some inspiration from the recipes.

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Inside Out Snow Cakes

I have lived in Scotland for six years and before that I had only seen snow as a texture-less white cap on very far away mountains… so in snow years I am only six years old.

If you have ever been in snow more than a foot deep and you haven’t tried running full pelt and launching yourself on to your back or tummy, I seriously recommend it. You can get bored of making snow men but you can’t get bored of the arctic belly flop.

Having said that, the novelty of wading through it all to try to get to work is wearing off. I baked some inside out fairy cakes on Sunday which I was planning to feed to everyone at work as part of my avoid-eating-them-all-myself tactic but when I opened the front door on Monday and realised that the only way I was going to get to work by car was write to Santa and borrow his reindeer to tow it there, I decided lugging a massive bag full of cake boxes on foot wasn’t such a smart idea. So because I suddenly had a surplus of cake and no means of distributing them I decided to sacrifice a couple in the name of art and take them out into the snow for some pictures.

As luck would have it Julia Parsons of Slice of Cherry Pie decided to have a Snow Day Bake off at the same time so I’m submitting them to the bake off as well as you cant get more into a theme than this! The cakes are inside out cakes because the icing is on the inside rather than the top. I like the idea that you can add any flavour to the sponge and fill them with anything, depending on the occasion. I flavoured the cakes with coconut and a hint of cinnamon this time because they go so well with strawberry and chocolate. I stuck to butter cream icing and some cherry jam because they needed to keep (and I had strawberry butter cream and chocolate and orange butter cream in the freezer looking for a home) but if I had been serving them straight away I would have tried whipped cream and jam or fruit which I think would be delicious – feel free to try out some ideas and let me know if they work.

I have also been trying out some tricks to make the cup cakes rise with rounded tops which you do need for this recipe to really work (conversely, flatter tops are better if you are going to pipe icing in a swirl). These are the things I think helped finally produce a suitably voluptuous cup cake:

  • Fill the papers or tin holes 3/4 full so that they have enough surface area to climb up when they are rising
  • Start the oven on 190°C for about 7 min and then turn down and finish at 160°C
  • Don’t over beat the batter (I used a wooden spoon instead of the electric blender this time)
  • Don’t over fill the oven – the baby cup cakes I put on the bottom shelf to finish up the batter didn’t rise anything like the ones on the top

Overall I think the climbing room is the trick that has the most effect.

Inside Out Cakes

Cake sponge

  • 1 and 2/3 cup cake flour (385ml)
  • 250g castor sugar
  • 1/2 cup desiccated coconut
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 eggs separated and 1 egg white
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1/2 cup butter (114g)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 and 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon


  • roughly 1 cups of strawberry butter cream icing (see my strawberry cupcakes post for a recipe)
  • roughly 1 cup of chocolate butter cream icing (see my chocolate cake post for a recipe)
  • 6 tsp black cherry jam
  • 3 tsp desiccated coconut
  • icing sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 190°C and grease a 12 hole muffin tin (I did this instead of using muffin papers and they seemed to rise better, as long as your tin is deep enough). You might need a second tin depending on the size of yours (I got 6 extra small cupcakes out of my batter which I just iced normally and topped with coconut).

Beat the butter sugar and vanilla essence with a wooden spoon in a large bowl until creamy (you could use an electric beater for this bit but I was too lazy to wash mine for the egg whites so I just stuck to the spoon, good for the bingo wings too). Beat in the egg yolks one at a time. Add half the flour then half the milk and gently combine. Repeat with the other half but don’t over beat. Now fold in the cinnamon and coconut or any other flavourings you are adding.

Beat the egg whites in a separate clean bowl until they form soft peaks and then fold into the batter. Fill the muffin tin holes 3/4 full and place in the oven for 7 min. Then turn the oven down and bake for another 13-18 min until a skewer inserted comes out clean.

Let the cakes cool completely on a wire rack and then cut the tops off with a bread knife as carefully as you can. Pipe or spread the strawberry icing on to half, sprinkle with coconut and put the lids back on. For the other half, spread with cherry jam, top with the chocolate icing and then replace the lid (if you are trying whipped cream instead then I think cherry jam topped with whipped cream and grated chocolate would be even better). Dust them all with icing sugar and serve!

Or get your wellies on and go trundling round the garden with them taking pictures in the snow.

Warning: your  neighbours will look at you very strangely.

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Bung-it Pie

Yesterday was my birthday. I had planned to make this meal yesterday but I dragged a very patient fiancé shopping to turn my birthday money into a pile of loot so we landed up at Nandos for an evening feast instead.

Having stuffed our faces with peri peri chicken wings and sweet potato mash we came home and I decided to pre-prep my original menu for tonight instead (partly because I had all the  ingredients and partly because one of my purchases was a set of le  Creuset bean pots that I’ve been coveting and they are so pretty they had to be used). This recipe is actually based onSophie Dahl’s Shepherd’s pie with champ but the beauty of this dish is that you can use it to finish off any veg you have, hence the title (you can bung anything in the cupboard in it).

Bung-it Pie

I had tomatoes and a courgette that needed to be used but you can put any veg in and change the ratio of veg to mince to suit. I’ve noted where an ingredient can be swapped for something else or removed as a guide.

Champ topping

  • 3 floury potatoes
  • small handful frozen peas
  • knob of butter
  • 3 spring onions, chopped
  • 30ml milk
  • 75g extra mature cheddar, broken into chunks
  • pinch of smoked paprika

For the filling

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 red onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped into small pieces
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 1 courgette chopped into small pieces (optional)
  • 400g tinned tomatoes (or 4-6 fresh tomatoes, chopped and a tbsp of tomato puree)
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 medium red chilli chopped (or ½ tsp tabasco)
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 80ml red wine
  • 100ml veg stock
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary (or 1/2 tsp of dried rosemary)
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar (or red wine vinegar if you don’t have any balsamic)
  • 250g beef mince (or lamb mince)
  • sea salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. For the champ topping, heat a pan of salted water, add the potatoes and bring gently to the boil, then simmer until the potatoes are nearly cooked through, about 15-20 minutes.

For the filling, heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat and gently fry the chopped onion, garlic, carrots and celery for 5-10 minutes, until softened. Turn the heat up and add the mince. Fry until browned and then add the courgette, chilli and garlic and fry for a further minute.  Add the  remaining filling ingredients, turn down the heat slightly and simmer until the sauces has reduced and veg is soft.

When the potatoes are almost cooked, add the frozen peas and cook for a few more minutes until the peas are tender (you can make your mash ahead or use left over mash in which case you can just boil the peas separately). Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a low heat and fry the spring onions  for 2min. Add the milk and heat through. Drain the potatoes and peas and mash roughly. Add the warm milk mixture to the potatoes and continue to mash until combined but still chunky. Spoon the beef mixture into a medium pie dish or individual pie dishes and top with the champ. Poke the bits of cheese into the mash and sprinkle with smoked paprika. Bake the pie for 25-30 minutes, or until the potato is golden-brown. If you have made the filling ahead of time and its cool it make take slightly longer to heat through (test the middle by inserting a butter knife and touching quickly against your lip to make sure its hot).

For the pudding half of my birthday menu I decided to try a Pannacotta recipe from Gordon Ramsay’s Healthy Appetite.  Its light and refreshing after a heavy meal which is a refreshing change from recent sweet things I’ve made and as a result is going on my list for Christmas pudding options! The original recipe has a blueberry sauce but I had some strawberry sauce in the freezer which I used instead.

Strawberry Pannacotta

Serves 6

  • 600ml semi-skimmed milk
  • 1 vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped out (keep pod)
  • 125g castor sugar
  • 4 sheets of gelatine
  • 200ml natural yoghurt
  • 250g strawberries
  • 3 tbsp honey/syrup/sugar
  • squeeze of lemon juice

Put the milk, sugar, vanilla seeds and pod in a saucepan and heat gently until the sugar dissolves and then bring to a simmer. Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water to soften.

As soon as the milk starts to bubble remove from the heat, drain and squeeze the gelatine leaves and add to the milk. Stir until dissolved and then leave to cool. Strain through a fine sieve (must be fine otherwise you will have bits of vanilla pod which doesn’t affect taste but looks a bit odd).

Once completely cool, add the yoghurt to the milk and pour into 6 pannacotta moulds (I used ramekins as I didnt have these). Cover with cling film and chill for a few hours or overnight.

Boil the berries, sugar/honey and lemon juice until syrupy and cool. To serve, turn the pannacotta out or serve in the moulds with the sauce.

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Strawberry Happiness

If these cup cakes don’t make you happy, whether you are making them or eating them, its official…you have no soul.

To all those of you who do have a soul and want the recipe, you can get the cake recipe here and the icing recipe here. It turns out the recipe actually makes just shy of 50 cupcakes (they must have bigger muffin papers in America – I had to force feed my friends at work to get rid of them all) so I emerged from the kitchen about 4 hours later, having baked in batches and lovingly iced each one. By the way, this is made slightly less laborious if you use a spatula to trowel the icing on.

Warning: consistent accidental ingestion of icing during application causes extreme nausea.

I’m fairly sure the butter cream icing is lethal in large doses but the cupcakes are really light and fluffy because of the whipped egg whites, even with the little chunks of gooey strawberry through them and because its real strawberry and not flavouring they are a bit more grown up than your average strawberry cupcake. Mine don’t look as sophisticated as Huy’s but I didn’t use the whipped icing on his recipe because I knew it wouldnt keep long enough to eat all the cupcakes so I chose the Martha Stewart one instead for this batch (yes I used a Martha Stewart recipe, I am officially a nerd. Delia next).

Enjoy ♥

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