Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Dutch, Swedish and Irish Apple Cakes

I think it's fair to say that when life gives me apples, or actually when Janet gives me apples to be exact... I bake apple cakes; and that's what I've been doing the past few days... testing more apple cake recipes that I've kept over the past few months. Apple overload?! Not yet...

The Dutch apple cake is by far the lightest apple cake yet. And because of its light and fluffy sponge, it's so easy to eat. This is not at all difficult to assemble and lovely to have in the afternoon with a cup of tea. Though as far as I am concerned, any time is good time to eat cake. I did save myself a couple slices, thinking it'll be nice to have in the morning with my coffee. Well, that never happen. That evening, I had my Nigella moment. I strolled to the fridge, looking for something to nibble and I picked up the cake, poured over some cold double cream and ... you know the rest.

Dutch Apple Cake
Recipe by Rachel Allen
For list of ingredients and instructions, click here.

None of my friends questioned about the origin of the Dutch or the Irish apple cakes. But they all asked, what makes this cake Swedish? Well, I don't know to be honest. I just eat. And I did my impression of Swedish accent. Apparently it's not so good . But anyway, this is another easy cake recipe that can be whipped up in no time. It does look like a giant cookie, don't you think? It's buttery and it's crispy around the edges and a little gooey when still warm.

Swedish Apple Cake
Recipe by Allegra McEvedy
For list of ingredients and instructions, click here.

OK, this Irish apple cake is not the prettiest looking cake, it's a bit wonky, but nevertheless it's delicious. I find it somewhat interesting that the batter for the cake begins like making crumble topping and then an egg and few spoonfuls of milk are added to turn in into a thick batter. My favourite bits from the cake are the apples that are poking out from the cake, because they really get sticky and caramelised.

I cannot wait to have the last slice of the cake later this evening.

Irish Apple Cake
Recipe by Diana Henry
For list of ingredients and instructions, click here.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Spiced Apple Cake with Blueberry Compote and Cream

Oh yes! It's about time for another apple cake. This morning Janet brought more apples and I think soon I will be able to tick all the apple cake recipes I really want to try. This recipe for spiced apple cake is from my friend Alex at Dear Love Blog. When I saw it, I knew I just had to bake and eat it.

The original recipe calls for blackberry, a classic pairing with apples, but I couldn't find it yesterday... so I substituted with blueberries which worked deliciously as well with apples. As mentioned by Alex, this cake really is the autumnal equivalent of Victoria sponge. I particularly like the pecans in the sponge, giving a nice crunch; and with the sweet blueberry compote and softly whipped cream, utterly delicious.

Spiced Apple Cake with Blackberry Compote and Cream
For list of ingredients, instructions and a stunning picture of the cake, click here.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Hot & Spicy Bloody Mary Soup with Twenty-first Century Ham, Cheese & Chive Bread

This month's Random Recipe challenge is in collaboration with No Croutons Required challenge, and it's all about soup. I love a warm bowl of soup for a chilly evening. It's just so nice for this time of year... well, at least for people living in the northern hemisphere.

I really want to cook from the new cookbooks I got for my birthday last month, and the book I selected at random is Lorraine Pascale's Home Cooking Made Easy. Lovely book from my wonderful work colleagues.

The soup I selected is the Hot and Spicy Bloody Mary Soup. I must say, I dislike Bloody Mary cocktail. I'm not keen on salty tomato juice from the carton. But made into soup... it's lovely. One of the rules for this month's challenge is "the soup should be vegetarian or at the very least vegetarian friendly". As you may know, one of the key components of Bloody Mary is Worcestershire sauce which is not vegetarian (it's made with anchovies). So, simply leave it out to make it completely vegetarian. As with the rest of the ingredients, they're all vegetarian friendly, including the vodka, however optional (virgin bloody Mary?), but I think it's compulsory.

Celery batons are the classic accompaniment for Bloody Mary, but they just didn't do it for me. What I want is bread for dunking into the soup. I, then, decided to bake the super easy twenty-first century ham, cheese and chive bread from the same book. If you are a vegetarian, I'm sure you can simply omit the ham. Even if you don't normally bake bread, or nervous about baking bread, I can tell you this is easy. If I can do it, you can too.

Hot & Spicy Bloody Mary Soup
Recipe by Lorraine Pascale
Makes about 1.2 litres, serves 4 - 6

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large red onion, peeled and sliced
500 g ripe tomatoes (about 5 vine or plum tomatoes), roughly chopped
1 litre tomato juice
3 squirts of tomato purée
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons soft light brown sugar
50 ml Worcestershire sauce
1/2 - 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (depending how spicy you like it!)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Several shakes of Tabasco sauce (optional)
Vodka, to taste (optional)
1 stick of celery, trimmed and cut into batons

Heat the oil in a large pan, add the onion and cook over a low heat for about 15 minutes until soft but not coloured. Add the tomatoes, tomato juice and purée, bay leaf, sugar, Worcestershire sauce and finally the cayenne and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to the boil, the reduce the heat a little to let it bubble away for a good 30 minutes to really get the flavours going.

Taste the soup and add more seasoning if needed, so it is just as you like it. Remove the bay leaf and discard. Then, you can either work in batches and blend the soup in a blender; or if you don't have the patience like me, use a hand blender. Add he Tabasco and Vodka, if using, and taste again, adjusting the seasoning if necessary.

Ladle the soup into warmed mugs or bowls and serve with the celery batons or the bread below.

Twenty-first Century Ham, Cheese & Chives Bread
Recipe by Lorraine Pascale
Makes 1 loaf

425 g self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
150 g mature Cheddar cheese, grated, plus an extra 10 g grated cheese for sprinkling
1/2 bunch of fresh chives, finely chopped
Few twists of black pepper
1 teaspoon paprika (optional)
1 teaspoon mustard powder (optional)
6 slices of honey roast ham, ripped up into little bits
200 - 225 ml water

Preheat the oven to 200 C. Put all of the ingredients in a bowl except the water and the 10 g of grated cheese and mix together well. Add enough water to make a soft but not sticky dough. Lorraine usually adds 200 ml, but I ended up using 225 ml. Stir it briefly and the get your hands in and squidge it together. Remove the dough from the bowl and shape it into a ball, flatten the ball slightly, so it cooks more quickly, then slash the loaf three times vertically with a sharp knife. Sprinkle over the remaining grated cheese.

Spray some water into the oven to create a steamy atmosphere, the place the dough on a baking tray and bake for 35 - 45 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown and smells cooked.

Once cooked, remove from the oven and leave to cool a little bit (if you can, of course). And enjoy with soft butter or steaming hot bowl of soup.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Apple and Lancashire Cheese Pie

I promised to make something savoury with all the apples I got, and I delivered: apple and Lancashire cheese pie (or pasty?). Doesn't that sound delicious already? This is so easy to assemble and it's just perfect for a simple supper or light lunch. If you can't find Lancashire cheese, simply use English mature cheddar cheese. The tartness of the apples, together with the sharpness of the cheese, fragrant shallots and thyme, and waxy potatoes are very satisfying. Serve with peppery salad of rocket and watercress and a dressing made with Dijon mustard, white wine vinegar (or lemon juice), finely minced garlic, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. Yum.

Before I share the recipe, I also want to say a massive Thank You to everyone for your contribution and support towards my dissertation. I've been anxiously waiting for the result and it's finally out and I can reveal to you that I received a first class grade and I've been awarded Master of Arts in Media and Cultural studies with Distinction. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Apple and Lancashire Cheese Pie
Recipe by Anna Jones
Serves 6 - 8

500 g ready-made butter puff pastry
1 vegetable stock cube
300 g waxy potatoes, cut into 5mm discs
4 apples, such as Royal Gala, Golden Russet or Cox, cut into thin discs (no need to core them)
2 shallots, finely sliced
200 g - 250 g Lancashire or sharp cheddar cheese, grated
2 thyme sprigs, leaves picked
1 egg, beaten
Chutney and salad leaves, to serve

Preheat the oven to 190 C. Cut the pastry into 2 pieces, then roll each into a rectangle slightly larger than A4.

Fill a saucepan with boiling water and add the stock cube. Add the potatoes, boil for 3-4 minutes, then drain and allow to steam dry.

Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper and lay one pastry rectangle on top. Arrange half the potatoes in an even layer over pastry, leaving a 2 cm gap around the edges, and season. Layer over half the apples then scatter over half the shallot, cheese and thyme. Repeat with another layer of potatoes, seasoning, apples, shallot, cheese and thyme.

Brush the edges with a little egg, then lay the second pastry rectangle on top, carefully stretching and moulding it over the filling. Press the edges together with your fingers or a fork.

Score the top of the pie. Brush the pastry with egg and bake for about 30-40 minutes until golden and puffed. Cut into wedges and serve with chutney and salad leaves.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Chicken Pie with Fennel and Tarragon

A couple of weeks ago I was helping my friend Michelle moving and I was given the task to assemble the TV stand. Here's something you should know about me: I suck at D.I.Y. True story: I once called an electrician to replace light bulbs... Pathetic, I know. But to be fair, it was halogen bulbs which I had no idea how to replace and since then I learned and now I know what to do.

Back to the TV stand, I followed the instructions word per word and I succeed. I came back to her flat a couple of days ago and the TV stand is still.... standing. So perhaps I am not that bad at D.I.Y... I am just lazy. I think that's the main reason.

In a way, cooking or baking is also a form of D.I.Y and until now, one of the things I am still scared of sometime is pastry. There are days when I get it spot on. And there are plentier days when it ended up in the bin. But I believe practise makes perfect. So, when I was asked to 're-invent' a recipe from bakingmad.com, I immediately turned to the pastry section and I chose to bake a chicken pie.

By 're-invent', I didn't make it completely different to the chicken pie you and I know, I simply want to add more flavours to it. And the flavours I am completely mad about at the moment are fennel and tarragon. I absolutely love it!! To the extend that my shower gel is now also infused with fennel (too much information?!). Both flavour works beautifully.

And for the pastry, I have tried several shortcrust pastry recipe and this is the one that really works for me. The Parmesan cheese is optional, but I really want a flavourful pastry.

Visit bakingmad.com more recipes, baking tips and ideas including bread, cakes, pies and cupcake making.

Now, the door handle also needs fixing... can I be bothered to give it a go, or just call the handyman?

Chicken Pie with Fennel and Tarragon
Serves 2 - 3

For the pastry
225 grams plain flour
100 grams cold butter, diced
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
a pinch of salt

For the filling
Half a chicken, cooked and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil, the regular stuff
2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, diced
2 fennel bulbs, chopped
a small bunch of fresh tarragon, finely chopped
65 grams pancetta, cubed
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
100 gr chestnut mushrooms, quartered
1 tablespoon plain flour
125 ml white wine
250 ml chicken stock
50 ml double cream
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 egg, beaten lightly

Start by making the pastry. Put the flour, butter, salt and Parmesan in a food processor and pulse until it looks like breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolks and pulse again until a dough is formed. Squidge the mixture together into a ball, cover with cling and put it in the fridge to rest for minimum of 30 minutes.

Now, make the filling. In a pan, on a medium heat, add the olive oil, butter, onion and fennel with a little sprinkle of salt. Cook until both the onion and fennel become soft, stirring frequently. Add the pancetta and cook for a further 5 minutes. Add the finely minced garlic and fresh tarragon leaves; followed by the flour. Cook for a little bit to get rid of the flouriness. Add the wine and the chicken stock. When I say chicken stock, what I really mean is water with once chicken stock cube. But, if you have home-made chicken stock, congratulations, you may use that. Cook until the mixture becomes deliciously creamy. When it comes to a bubble, add the chestnut mushrooms and the double cream, mixing well and turn off the heat. Let it cool a bit.

Remove the pastry from the fridge and let it warm up a little; it will make it easier to roll. Roll the pastry out on a lightly floured board, large enough to cover your pie dish. And with the excess, you can make the decorative ornaments for the pastry. Although, obviously there is no need to. I just feel like it.

Taste the filling if it needs more seasoning and adjust to your liking. Then put it in the pie dish. Brush the pastry rim with the beaten egg and place on the pie dish, pressing it down well with the edge of a fork. Brush the pastry with the egg to give it a shiny glaze when it come out of the oven.

Bake the pie for about 30 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown. Serve with peas.