Sunday, 29 August 2010

Bake It! Toffee Pecan Ring

You have probably guessed from the fact that I have left it a month between blog posts that I have been too busy to get round to blog writing - the truth is much worse. I have, in fact been so busy that I have barely had time to cook never mind make anything worth writing about.  I have recently started back at university to do my post graduate teaching diploma and it has lead to big changes in our home. I have spent the last six months or so being a more-or-less full time housewife and am now a commuter and full time student, with lots of homework, reading and research. Any cooking I have done has been tried and tested recipes and filling the freezer with the easily re-heated meals and banana muffins. 

Things have been so hectic that when we had house guests last weekend I resorted to shop bought pizza bases. The bases themselves were the fresh kind that you find in the chilled section next to the pastry and not the thick cardboard ones so the resulting pizza was tasty and enjoyable - just not up to my usual hostess standards. To make amends I decided that the latest Bake It! challenge from Cooking, Cakes and Children would be the perfect after dinner treat - and it was. It also went down extremely well re-heated with coffee the next morning.

Toffee Pecan Ring

75 g butter, diced
450 g self raising flour
50 g caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten
150 ml milk

25 g butter, melted
75 g pecans
2 tbsps light soft brown sugar
50 g dark chocolate chips
1 packet Rolos, quartered
1 tbsp milk to glaze
25 g dark chocolate, melted

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease the bottom of a 10 inch round baking tin.
  • Rub together the butter and flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
  • Mix in the sugar then add the eggs and milk, a little at a time. Mix until it forms a soft dough.
  • Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and roll out to make a square of approx 35cm.
  • Coarsely chop the pecans and mix in the soft brown sugar.
  • Brush the dough with the melted butter then sprinkle over the pecan and sugar mix, chocolate chips and chocolate toffees, leaving a 2.5cm border at the top and bottom.
  • Starting at the edge nearest to you, roll up the dough tightly like a swiss roll, then cut it into 2.5cm slices. You should get about 12-14 slices.
  • Lay the slices around the edge of your baking tin at a slight tilt so they overlap a little.
  • Brush the top with a little milk and bake for about 20-25 minutes, until they are golden and cooked through.
  • Leave to cool for 10-15 minutes in the tin and then transfer to a wire rack to cool. Drizzle the top with melted chocolate.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Bake It! Lemon Squares

I love baking. Baking requires a kind of concentration that you don't need for regular cooking and I love to totally immerse myself in a recipe - my own personal method of relaxation and meditation. I also love the end product, although apart from my post baking cake and cuppa I try and avoid my creations, unless the recipes are suitably virtuous and healthy.  As it is just myself and Mr M in the house I never have the opportunity to get baking as much as I want. This means that I will jump at whatever chance I may have to get baking - birthdays, exam passes, visitors - as I write this I have blondies cooling in the kitchen and a tray of brownies in the oven, for my friends hen weekend. So imagine the joy I felt when I read about Amy Lane's Bake It! club in her blog Cooking, Cakes and Children. Not only did signing up for this club give me a monthly excuse for getting baking but July's recipe for Lemon Squares were a perfect antidote to the dismal Scottish weather.

I have copied the instruction straight from the Cooking, Cakes and Children blog but as I don't have a food processor or pastry blender I made it the old fashioned way, I always find that there is something extremely therapeutic about rubbing the fat into the flour by hand. The recipe itself was easy to follow and the Lemon Squares were absolutely delicious. I am looking forward to trying the recipe again soon and am even contemplating substituting limes for the lemons to give it a bit of a twist. As for the Bake It! club I had a fantastic time with this months recipe and I can't wait for next months challenge!

Lemon Squares

50g plain flour

75g icing sugar
175g butter, chilled and diced
pinch salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

2 unwaxed lemons

4 eggs
50g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
 icing sugar for dusting

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C and grease a baking tin, approx 24cm x 24cm x 4cm.
  • Put the shortbread ingredients (flour, icing sugar, salt, butter and vanilla extract) into a food processor and process until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. If you don’t have a food processor you can rub the fat into the flour and sugar by hand or using a pastry blender.
  • Tip the mixture into the baking tin and press down with a spoon and/or your hands.
  •  Bake for around 15 minutes until a light golden colour, remove from the oven but leave the oven on.
  •  Grate the lemon zest and squeeze out the juice. Put this in the food processor with the rest of the topping ingredients and blitz briefly to combine into a thin batter. Again, if you don’t have a food processor you could use a whisk.
  •  Pour the mix over the base and put back in the oven for another 15 minutes, until the topping is just set.
  •  Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. Then cut into squares and dust with icing sugar. This recipe will make about 20 squares.

These are not suitable for freezing but can be kept in an airtight container for 4 days.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Lentil and Carrot Pâté

During my times as an undergraduate I flirted with vegetarianism. Unlike my flatmate at the time, who had a range of 'I am a cute little pig/lamb/chick please do not eat me' t-shirts, I became a vegetarian first as a reaction to the failure of the caterers at my university halls of residence to cook anything appetising, by my own inability to cook meat and the ease of sharing cooking with my vegi flatmate when I moved into a shared flat.
For the most part I enjoyed my life as a vegetarian, the meals that we concocted in the overcrowded kitchen of our student flat were often experimental and less than successful, but we had fun creating them. I did, however discover an allergy to Quorn which is something of a disaster for any self respecting student, never mind a vegi one. 
My biggest test as a vegetarian came when I went to my parents for the Christmas holidays. In our family Christmas is the biggest production of the year (I am hosting the annual feast for my parents, Mr M'  parents and my baby sister this year so be prepared for plenty of festive blogs as the year progresses) and  the main includes no fewer than 5 different types of meat and as a general rule more side dishes than people sitting round the table! It was the latter point that saved me during my flirtation with vegetarianism as I was more than happy to eat the vegetables and potatoes. My main problem came with the second course (or was it the third?) -  pork liver Pâté. I was determined not to give in to temptation and to prove that I could come up with a tasty meat free alternative, so to my mothers horror I made myself a Lentil and Carrot Pâté as an alternative. Unfortunately I don't think this vegetarian delight survived my mothers scrutiny to make it onto the Christmas dinner table, although my memories were of a rather tasty if unlike any Pâté I had ever had before. More recently attempts to loose weight led to me investigating vegetarian Pâté once more (I had a particularly bad experience with a well known Supermarkets low fat Brussels Pâté) and I developed this slightly more grown up and more tasty version of the Lentil and Carrot Pâté of my youth. 

Lentil and Carrot Pâté
 (Serves 4-6 as a snack or light lunch) 

200g red split lentils
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
200 g carrots, grated
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion finely chopped
2 lg garlic cloves, crushed
50g Light olive oil spread
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
Salt and pepper

  • Boil the lentils with the ground cumin and coriander for 10 minutes, add the carrots and boil for a further 10 minutes, until the lentils and carrots are soft. 
  • Meanwhile heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and cook the onion and garlic gently until soft but not coloured. 
  • When cooked drain the lentils well and transfer to a large bowl, add the cooked onion and garlic, light Olive oil spread and mix well.
  • Fry the cumin and coriander seeds in a dry pan until fragrant and add to the lentil mixture. 
  • Season the lentil mixture to taste and chill for at least two hours. 
This is delicious with toasted bread and salad as a light lunch. 

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Broad beans, ham and tomato.

After two months of being in our new house we have finally found a farm with an organic veg box scheme that will deliver to our area! We first decided to get a veg box delivered a few years ago when we lived in the centre of the city and found that the quality and shelf life of the veg we were buying at the supermarket was often unpredictable and not always worth the price. Both our old and new schemes are reasonably priced when compared to supermarket prices and the fruit and veg that is delivered are far better quality. When our new box arrived the fruit and vegatables were wonderfuly fresh and exciting and I couldn't wait to get stuck in. I was delighted to find the inclusion of broad beans in our first box, they are one of Mr M's favourites and would go perfectly with the ham I had just boiled. This dish is a simple, quick and tasty one that goes really well with a simple salad and garlic bread.

Broad beans with ham and tomato
(serves 2)
150 g boiled ham, cubed
2 small red onions, finely chopped
225 g cherry tomatoes, halved
2 garlic cloves, chopped
100 g broad beans, weighed after shell and skin removed
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp oregano

  • Boil the beans in a large pan of water for 10 minutes, until they are tender.
  • Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and add the onion and garlic. Fry until soft but not browned.
  • Add the cubed ham and fry for a further minute. 
  • Add the tomato and herbs and fry, stirring for 2 minutes.
  • Add the cooked beans and cook for a further two minutes.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010


I have never been a big fan of breakfast, not the relaxed weekend breakfast that is one of my guilty pleasures, but the rushed weekday breakfast. The one that you know is good for you but that you just can't stomach before you have to dash out of the house and often skip in favour of vast quantities of coffee. In recent years I have made a concerted effort with weekday breakfast but often find pre-packaged cereals a chore and often get bored with them before the end of the box. I was introduced to the joys of granola and yogurt as an alternative breakfast through a friend and a pre-packaged supermarket pot, and while I found this a pleasant way to start the day I found that shop bought boxes of granola are often oily, expensive and scrimp on the fruit. 

I decided that making my own granola would be the perfect solution to getting granola just the way I like it. I used a recipe for Not-Too-Crunchy Granola from The Desperate Housewives Cookbook (a gift from Mr M after a business trip to the Sates) as a base but have adapted it to make it less oily and just the way I like it and to reflect the dried fruits and nuts in the cupboard. I especially like serving granola with natural yogurt and berry compote.

(Adapted from The Desperate Housewives Cookbook)

FryLight sunflower spray (I found this the best way to make the granola less greasy)
3-cups porridge oats
1/2 cup oat bran (or wheat germ)
1 cup flaked almonds (or any nut you prefer)
3/4 cup dessicated coconut
1/3 cup maple syrup (or honey)
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup sultanas
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup dried blueberries (or your favourite dried fruit)
1 cup banana chips, broken into pieces (make sure you get crunchy banana chips, the softer ones tend to go slimy when you add milk or yogurt)

  •  Preheat the oven to 1500C (fan assisted).
  • Spray a large, deep pan with the sunflower spray, add the oats, bran, nuts and coconut. Mix well and spray a few more times with the sunflower spray. Make sure the mixture is spread evenly onto the tray and bake stirring occasionally. 
  • Whisk the syrup and sugar with 2 tbsp of water in a jug. When the oat mixture is lightly browned (around 40 min) drizzle over the syrup mixture and stir well. Bake, stirring occasionally until the mixture is dry and crunchy but still light brown (15 - 30 minutes), you need to keep a close eye on the mixture to avoid burning. 
  • Remove from the oven and stir in the banana chips and fruit. 
  • Store in an airtight container.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Lower Fat Lemon Yoghurt Cake

The first time my now mother-in-law cooked for me she made the most wonderful butternut squash and cream cheese soup using a great recipe from The New Dairy Cookbook by Sue Ashworth. This is a great book that is a modern version of the Milk Marketing Board's dairy cookbooks that graced my own mothers shelves. After borrowing the book for an extended loan I decided that I should invest in a copy of my own. By definition the book does not always lend itself to low fat and healthy cooking but the availability of low fat dairy products and a little tweaking can produce some very tasty low fat meals.
My Lower Fat Lemon Yogurt Cake is adapted from the books Natural Yogurt Orange Cake and the result is a zingy lemon cake with less guilt.

Lower Fat Lemon Yogurt Cake
Adapted from New Dairy Cookbook's Natural Yogurt Orange Cake
(Serves 8 - 10)

150 g Stork Margarine, melted and cooled
2 lemons, juice and zest finely grated 
150 g golden caster sugar
150 g low fat natural yogurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
250 g self-raising flour
salt, pinch
2 medium eggs

  • Preheat the oven to 155oC (fan). Grease a 24 cm round spring-form cake tin and line with baking parchment.
  • Put the lemon juice in a jug and add 1 tbsp of the sugar, leave to one side.
  • Put the lemon zest, sugar, margarine, yogurt, vanilla, flour, salt and eggs into a large mixing bowl. Beat thoroughly for 1 minute.
  • Bake in the pre-heated oven and bake for around 1 hour until risen and golden.
  • Place the cake, still in the tin on a cooling rack and pour over the lemon juice. Allow the cake to cool in the tin.

My cake looks considerably flatter than that in the book, this is probably due to the larger diameter of cake tin used. The original recipe also suggests putting orange slices on the top of the cake, I decided not to put lemon slices on top for fear of them being bitter after baking.

Friday, 21 May 2010

30-Day Muffin Round Up

As promised some more flavour ideas for the 30-day muffin recipes:

Apple and Raisin Muffins:
(makes 6-8 muffins)

2 small eating apples, peeled and chopped
100 g raisins
400 ml 30-day muffin batter
These were very tasty, I was a big fan of the juicy raisins and perhaps added a few more than was really needed. Mr M thought they would be better without any raisins so I made some without for the next batch.

Apple Muffins:
(makes 4 muffins)

2 small eating apples, peeled and grated
200 ml 30-day muffin batter
These muffins were a little flat, I think I tried to stretch the batter too far. Mr M loved the result though.

Cherry and Almond Muffins:
(makes 5 muffins)

1/3 cup ground almonds, plus extra for topping
Handful of chopped glace cherries
300 ml 30-day muffin batter
These were extra moist, I think this was probably due to the ground almonds. Next time I have a batch of batter in the fridge I may be tempted to add the almonds to every combination of ingredients, they don't add much flavour and will be a big improvement to the texture.