Friday, 29 June 2012

Macaroni 1: Meltdown 0!

Ladies and Gents, I have to warn you that this post may take on the form of a bit of a rant. It's been a funny few days; an emotional rollercoaster, some may say. And not due to anything specific, either. Just the culmination of a hundred little niggling issues which combined to induce a melodramatic meltdown of epic proportions, which it turned out that only food could cure.

I'm very aware that committing any of these minor catastrophes to writing will decrease their significance to the extent that my reaction will make me feel psychologically unhinged. However, suffice it to say that after hearing (after 3 weeks of to-and-fro phonecalls; actually, mostly to- and not much fro) that the passport office have lost my marriage certificate (apparently due to posting it back normal delivery, even though I paid for courier service), then rushing to source a last-minute van after finding out that my Dad wanted his house move to take place this weekend, only to be informed by Mr P that we've got guests coming ("I told you weeks ago!"/"I'm pretty sure you didn't!"), organising the time off to do the move early next week instead, then finding that Dad had already roped in extra 'volunteers' for Saturday, but managing to put them off as nicely as possible, then finding out that next week's conference paper, whch I thought was 90% done, was actually 18 pages of vapid nonsense, I was not in the best of spirits.

But hark! What is that I hear? Is it the sound of an email notification from Schuh alerting me to their 25% off sale? And lo! Do my eyes deceive me, or are the shiny red lovelies that I have been aspirationally referring to as my "Birthday shoes" included in said sale? Could it be that my day was suddenly taking a turn for the much, much, better?

Erm, no. Because they only had three sizes left, and mine wasn't one of them. Cue: meltdown!

In a situation like this, there is only one cure: comfort food, and lots of it.

Meltdown-busting Macaroni cheese
(serves 2)

2 cups dried macaroni
1 des sp butter
2 tblsp sunflower oil
1 des spoon plain flour
2 cups milk (I used soya milk)
3 des spoon nutritional yeast
1/2 dessert spoon paprika
1/2 tsp mustard powder
good shake of black pepper
grated cheese (mature cheddar) a block about 2cm x 2cm x 8cm (you can't be expected to wigh such things when you are having a meltdown)

1. Cook the macaroni in boiling water as per the instructions on the packet - don't over cook it though, as it should be a little al dente.

2. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a moderate heat, then add the oil. Stir in the flour and mustard powder to form a thick roux.

3. Add in the milk, stirring continously, then stir in the paprika, pepper, and nutritional yeast.

4. When they are all blended in well, stir in the grated cheese. If the meltdown is serious, you may wish to grate some more to sprinkle over the finished dish as a protest against class and decency (I did).

5. When the macaroni is cooked, remove both pans from the heat. Drain the macaroni thoroughly and add it to the pan of cheese sauce, and mix until all of the macaroni is completely covered.

6. Serve in a large bowl, and eat with a big spoon. You will feel immediately a lot better.

7. If you're not quite up to 100% mental fitness after the macaroni cheese, then fry up a big batch of popcorn with inordinate amounts of salt, and treat yourself to a teacup of Galliano vanilla liqueur on the side.

What?! Are you looking at me funny?

No, seriously, I'm better now.

Or am I?

Yeah, honestly I am.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Jamaican Ginger Cake #1

Last weekend, Mr P and I were mostly dining out at the expense of others, and I have to say that if there's one thing in the world that's better than cooking for your friends, it's being cooked for by them! Sunday night saw a flithy dirty German (Swabian, actually) cheese fest, courtesy of Mel. I'll leave the teaser at that, for now, as I fully intend to post her recipe for Spaetzle (home-made fat pasta noodles baked with cheese into nightly calorific guilty goodness) in the not too distant future.

Friday night was an evening of firsts. We were invited round to experience Messner's very first attempt at Lasagne (and a veggie one, to boot!). Despite being a bloody good cook, there are probably numerous reasons why he's never attempted Lasagne before, not least because he's got a weird, almost phobic dislike of cheese. I kid you not. Apparently, it was the first time he'd bought cheese, and grating it gave him the shudders.

For me, there were also a  few firsts - for one, I found out that it's possible to take aerial acrobatic/silks classes just down the road from us... and was alerted to the fact by the multi-talented (and at this point, leotard-clad) artist Sarah, or  Juggler Sarah, as I like to think of her. Two more firsts for me - I'd never before tried Lasagne with a creme fraiche-based white sauce in it (and can now highly recommend), but it was also my first attempt at a Jamaican Ginger Cake.

So why the #1 in the post title, then? Well, whilst this cake was definitely gingery, spicy, and moist, it didn't quite have the requisite 'sticky' quality that I always associate with Jamaican Ginger Cake, probably because I ran out of treacle, and couldn't put nearly as much in the batter as I'd been planning. So, with that caveat, here's the recipe I used. If you want to give this a try, I'd highly recommend adding more treacle, perhaps half as much again, or even double what I used.

Jamaican Ginger Cake #1
400g plain flour
2tsp baking powder
2tsp cinnamon
1tsp nutmeg
5 cloves, crushed
2tsp ground ginger
250g butter or margarine
210g soft dark brown sugar
4tblsp grated ginger
200 ml milk
85g treacle
3 eggs, beaten

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celcius, and prepare your cake tin. A large loaf tin would be the traditional receptacle, but I used a 25cm Bundt tin, to be a bit different. Sieve togther the dry ingredients into a large bowl (this does not include the grated ginger).

2. Melt together the butter and treacle in a saucepan on the hob. When melted, remove from the heat and allow to cool for a few minutes, then gradually stir in the milk. This will help to reduce the temperature futher so that the eggs don't cook when you add them.

3. Next, add the eggs to the liquid mixture, beating continuously. Stir in the grated ginger.

4. Gradually mix the liquid mixture into the dry mixture, stirring to form a smooth batter. Transfer the cake mixture to your prepared cake tin, and bake for around 40-50 minutes, depending on the kind of tin you used. Mine took about 45 minutes. You can leave it to cool on a wire rack, but there is definitely something to be said for serving it whilst it's still warm.

5. This moist cake is yummy on its own, or is also great served with a cup of tea. However, harking back to the old shared house days when Messner would return from the corner shoup with a Jamaican ginger cake and a tin of custard, I'm afraid we did the unthinkable with this cake....

...and it was yummy. Go on, try it... I dare you!

Friday, 15 June 2012

Everyone's a fruit and nut case!

Perhaps controversially, my Dad has always been a major fan of Cadbury's Fruit and Nut. Probably not the most popular of the Cadbury's range (I'm a fan of their Turkish delight, myself), but there's certainly a time and a place for it. And given that he will be celebrating his birthday this year with a trans-Atlantic adventure, we had a pre-birthday celebration before he left, for which this themed cake was created. Anyway, this week is his actual birthday, so it seems an appropriate time to post the recipe.

The best thing about it is the texture. It's so fluffy and light, you'd almost think I had cheated by injecting it with some of the more disgusting fats and gelatines favoured by many of today's cake manufacturers. But rest easy, this cake is made of all good stuff. In fact, my Dad's verdict was that "This is the best birthday cake I've ever had". Not bad, given that it's his 80th!

Trip layered chocolate, fruit and nut cake
Serves 6-8
You need 3 x 8" sandwich tins (I only have two so I reused one, mixing a third of the mixture after the first two were in the oven!)

4.5oz/125g caster sugar
1.5oz/40g muscovado sugar
6oz/170g baking margarine (Stork)
3 eggs, beaten
4.5oz/125g caster sugar
1.5oz/40g cocoa powder
1.5oz/40g ground almonds
a splash of milk (I used Alpro)

For the Buttercream:
2oz/55g baking margarine (Stork)
2 tablespoons cocoa powder, sieved
2 tablespoons icing sugar, sieved

To decorate:
raisins, chocolate chips, chopped nuts

1. Cream together the sugar and the margarine until light and fluffy.

2. Stir in the beaten egg, a little at a time, mixing thoroughly.

3. Stir in the flour, cocoa and almonds, and add a splash of milk if the mixture isn't wet enough.

4. Divide the mixture equally between your tins and bake at 180 degrees celcius for about 15-25 minutes. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

5. For the buttercream, cream together all of the ingredientsroughly, then whisk with and electric whisk until light and fluffy.

6. When the cakes are totally cool, sandwich together with the buttercream, spread a layer of buttercream on the top and decprate with fruit, nuts and chocolate.

Everyone's fruit and nut case... triple layered chocolate, fruit and nut cake

7. Scatter it with as many candles as it can safely hold, sing the birthday song at the top of your voice, and enjoy!

Monday, 11 June 2012

Feast from the East

I've been back from my trip to China for a week now, and I still feel like I'm getting over the jet lag!

It's an amazing place, stuffed full of history and intrigue at every turn. However, for a country whose religious population is predominantly Buddhist, China's not the great vegetarian Mecca you might think, as Chinese Buddhists happily tend to eat meat, and many vegetable dishes contain pork for flavouring. However, there were a couple of really delicious dishes that I was party to out there, and here's my recipe for one of my favourites. It's a really simple cucumber salad, where the cucumber has a very spicy tang due to marinading with chilli. Great as a pick-me-up in hot weather, this serves as the perfect accompaniment to Western and Chinese-style dishes.

Spicy cucumber and chilli salad

4 dessert spoons of sesame oil
1 red chilli, sliced into rounds
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
4 small cucumbers (the short stumpy ones are best, not the large smooth ones that are most common in the UK)
2 dessert spoons cider vinegar

1. Very gently heat the oil in a saucepan with the chilli and garlic. It should not bubble or spit, but should just become slightly warm, so that you could drip it on your hand without being burned.

2. Remove from the heat and transfer to a bowl. Allow to rest until it reaches room temperature. This allows the flavours to develop.

3. When the oil has reached room temperature, add in the cider vinegar and mix. Peel the cucumber and slice into rounds. Mix with the dressing. Allow to chill in the fridge for 30 minutes, then serve.